NATM headquarters receives frequent questions from trailer dealers and end-users about state troopers and local enforcement oﬃcers pulling over towed trailers the drivers thought did not require a commercial driver's license (CDL). Is this a result of overly-diligent law enforcement at work? Or a lack of awareness regarding CDL laws? Perhaps a combination of both?
What appears to be behind these inquiries is the vagueness of the CDL laws and the general confusion and disagreement this vagueness naturally generates. So, let’s try to clear up some of this confusion. Congress has charged the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) with responsibility for implementing the federal CDL laws through federal regulations and has directed the states to issue CDLs in conformity with these regulations. The FMCSA’s CDL regulations appear in the Code of Federal Regulations, 49 C.F.R. Part 383. The FMCSA requires drivers to have a CDL—either a Class A, Class B, or Class C (for transporting passengers or hazardous materials)—in order to operate deﬁned types of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in interstate, intrastate, or foreign commerce.
To clarify its regulations, the FMCSA publishes a graphic illustrating the various vehicle conﬁgurations constituting the groups of CMVs requiring a Class A or Class B CDL. That graphic can be found to the left. State and local law enforcement often refer to it for guidance.
The FMCSA requires drivers to have a CDL to operate a motor vehicle if that vehicle meets the FMCSA deﬁnition of a “commercial motor vehicle” and is used in “commerce.” The FMCSA deﬁnes both terms in this two-part requirement in 49 C.F.R. § 383.5. The great misunderstanding out there, within the trailer industry and perhaps within the law enforcement community, about the CDL requirements springs from those two deﬁnitions, particularly the word “commerce.”
The FMCSA deﬁnes a “commercial motor vehicle” as a motor vehicle, or a combination of motor vehicles, in certain GVWR-based conﬁgurations, when used in “commerce” to transport “property or passengers.” The physical conﬁguration component of the CMV deﬁnition is very mechanical, very objective. When dealing with a tow vehicle-trailer combination, you look at the gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of the tow vehicle if the tow-vehicle manufacturer has assigned it a GCWR and displays it on its certiﬁcation label. With respect to the familiar combination, a tow vehicle (whether truck, automobile, or tractor) towing a trailer, the driver needs a CDL if the tow-vehicle manufacturer’s assigned GCWR exceeds 26,000 lbs. (as shown on its cert. label) and the trailer’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) exceeds 10,000 lbs. If there is no assigned GCWR, the FMCSA regulations require the driver to have a CDL only if the sum of the GVWRs of the tow vehicle and the trailer together exceeds 26,000 lbs. and the trailer’s GVWR exceeds 10,000 lbs. In either scenario that satisﬁes the deﬁnition of “commercial motor vehicle,” the driver will need a Class A CDL, assuming the trailer’s use also satisﬁes the second component of the CDL requirement, “used in commerce,” as discussed below.
With respect to a single vehicle, the FMCSA requires the driver to have a Class B CDL to operate that truck, bus, van, or automobile in commerce if that vehicle has a GVWR of more than 26,000 lbs. It is required even if that vehicle is a power unit (truck, automobile, or van) and is towing a trailer with a GVWR of 10,000 lbs. or less. If the trailer’s GVWR exceeds 10,000 lbs., a Class A CDL is needed if its use also satisﬁes the second prong of the CDL requirement.
The second prong of the CDL requirement, and of the CMV deﬁnition, is much more troubling, much more subjective, and the primary source of the confusion. To qualify as a CMV requiring a CDL, that vehicle, even in a qualifying GCWR/GVWR conﬁguration, must be used in “commerce.” “Commerce” has its own separate deﬁnition in § 385.3 of the FMCSA’s regulations. The FMCSA deﬁnes it broadly as any trade, traﬃc, or transportation between points in one state and points in another state or any trade, traﬃc, or transportation that “aﬀects” trade, traﬃc, or transportation in the U.S. between points in one state and points in another. Not exactly an enlightening deﬁnition, to say the least. How this “use” assessment turns out often varies depending upon who is doing the assessing. And that is often the law enforcement oﬃcer on the scene.
As a starting point, the proper inquiry, then, is whether this questionable CMV is transporting property (across state lines) for some commercial purpose, as opposed to for the personal use of the owner, driver, or some other person. What the trailer owner considers his or her own “personal use” may in fact, upon close examination, turn out to be for a “commercial purpose” when viewed through the critical eyes of the state or local law enforcement oﬃcer. Let’s examine several tricky examples:
Complicating the question of whether a CDL is necessary are a hodge-podge of state CDL laws, many of which are at variance with the federal law that FMCSA has issued. States are not prohibited from enacting their own state CDL laws, applying them to non-interstate movements (i.e. the trailer does not cross the state line), if those state laws are stricter than the federal law. In theory, the state law of State A might require its residents to have a diﬀerent class of CDL, perhaps designated as a “Class D,” to tow a 26,000-lbs. GVWR trailer when used for personal use. In the third “tricky example” above, even if the student does not need a CDL under federal law to haul his lawn mower (because the trailer’s GVWR is less than 10,000 lbs.), he may need one anyway because the state law of the state where he resides requires one even to pull a light-duty trailer.
State A must, however, honor the out-of-state driver’s license issued by State B to its residents: for example, if State B does not require a CDL for its residents to operate a vehicle for personal use, then State A may not require a State B resident to have a CDL while operating a vehicle for personal use in State A even if State A requires its own residents to have a “Class D” CDL for this purpose.
The CDL complaints that NATM ﬁelds typically revolve around the smaller, medium-duty trailers (between 10,000 lbs. and 26,000 lbs. GVWR) and the debate over personal use vs. commercial use. In sum, assuming commercial use, when the GVWR of the truck exceeds 26,000 lbs., a CDL is required, regardless of the GVWR of the trailer, and when the GVWR of the truck is less than 26,000 lbs., a CDL is required only if (1) that truck’s GVWR and the trailer’s GVWR, added together, exceed 26,000 lbs. and (2) the trailer’s GVWR exceeds 10,000 lbs.
Dealers should be prepared to provide that objective guidance about what tow vehicle-trailer conﬁgurations may need a CDL when asked by their customers, but they would be well advised to stay away from declaring, when asked, that the customer’s intended end-use of the trailer meets or does not meet the FMCSA definition of “used in commerce.” This precaution is especially warranted if the trailer’s intended use, as described by the owner, falls within the murky, gray area of personal vs. commercial use or the dealer is unsure about the niceties of the state CDL laws that might apply. It is also important for the dealer to keep in mind that a trailer’s use might be “personal” on one or more trips but “in commerce” on others. Better that the driver have that CDL and not need it than not to have one when stopped and forced to try to explain to the oﬃcer that this “trip” is really only a “one-oﬀ ,” a rare exception to his usual personal use.
NATM’s booth sales continue as the industry looks forward to the 2022 show! Booth selection for the 2022 Convention & Trade Show began on June first. On July 6th, companies that chose to roll their 2021 booth funds over to 2022 begun to select their new booth locations. Starting August 4th, the general membership will be allowed to choose booth space.
Exhibiting at NATM’s Convention & Trade Show is affordable, with the cost per 10’ x 10’ booth at $1,457 for NATM members and $2,914 for non-members. Exhibitors can choose to carpet their booth or request electricity through Freeman this Fall. If you would like to purchase a booth, contact NATM Assistant Director Meghan Ryan at Meghan.Ryan@natm.com or call (785) 272-4433.
Registration will open Sept. 13 online. All exhibiting suppliers must register their booth workers online at NATM.com. Each exhibiting company receives two complimentary booth workers per 10’ x 10’ booth purchased. Additional booth workers can be registered for the Early Bird rate of $75. This price increases by $50 per person when registering after Jan. 30, 2022.
Think outside the booth! Sponsorships are still available for the Annual Convention & Trade Show. The success of the NATM Convention is directly tied to the support of its generous sponsors. There are marketing and general sponsorship opportunities available from $250 to $50,000 to fit any budget, including networking receptions, the Top Golf Tee-Off event, trade show lounges and more! Being a sponsor allows your company early access to booth selection for the 2022 show and provides a wide range of exposure, both electronically on NATM’s website and mobile app, as well as in print on the convention program map and in Tracks magazine. This name-recognition will help drive customers to your booth.
NATM will work with you to find the sponsorship opportunity best fit to get your company’s name in front of industry decision-makers. You can find the full 2022 Sponsorship Brochure at www.NATM.com/sponsor.
For 2022, the NATM host hotels are the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina and the Embassy Suites by Hilton Tampa Downtown Convention Center.
Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel: The Tampa Marriott is conveniently located directly across the street from the Tampa Convention Center. NATM has negotiated a room block rate of $289/night.
Hotel Address: 700 S Florida Ave, Tampa Fl 33602
Phone Number: (813) 221-4900
To make your reservation at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel for $289/night click here.
Embassy Suites by Hilton Downtown Convention Center: The Embassy Suites is conveniently located directly across the street from the Tampa Convention Center with a second level walkway directly to the convention center. NATM has negotiated a room block rate of $279/night.
Hotel Address: 513 South Florida Avenue Tampa, Florida 33602
Phone Number: 813-769-8301
To make your reservation at the Embassy Suites for $279/night click here.
Arrgh! Scammers Ahoy!
Unauthorized third parties have begun contacting NATM Members about hotel reservations for NATM's Convention & Trade Show. NATM advises that you do not engage or make reservations with any third-party group!
Trailer Manufacturers & Dealers:
Take Advantage of New Attendee Promo
NATM trailer manufacturers and dealer affiliates who have never attended the NATM Convention, or who have not attended in the last five years, are eligible for two complimentary full registrations and two complimentary hotel room nights (while available) as part of the New Attendee Promotion. Full registrations include access to all events and meals (except Top Golf Tee-Off) outlined in the show calendar. This is an affordable opportunity for trailer manufacturers to receive top-notch education, networking, and develop supplier relationships while in Tampa.
NATM is excited to once again offer free full registrations for trailer manufacturers’ spouses. NATM hopes you will plan to bring your other half along to enjoy the show!
Click here to apply for the
New Attendee Promo!
The NATM Regulatory Roundup & Capitol Hill Visits are scheduled for September 22, 2021. Along with the Convention & Trade Show, this is one of NATM’s most important events of the year. The day of activities is divided into two distinct parts: the Regulatory Roundup which is held in the morning featuring expert presenters, and the Capitol Hill Visits in the afternoon. The Regulatory Roundup is a speaker series that in the past has featured Congressional staffers, officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and experts from the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). Capitol Hill Visits are meetings with legislators discussing industry needs and educating Members of Congress about the impact of the light- and medium-duty trailer industry on the economy and in local communities.
With continued meeting restrictions, the 2021 event will be a hybrid format with both virtual and in-person meetings with legislative offices. All NATM Members and Dealer Affiliates are invited to participate in the Regulatory Roundup which will be hosted virtually. For those individuals who are interested in what’s happening in Washington, D.C. and within federal agencies, this is the perfect chance to get a feel for the event, which is usually hosted in person, without investing in a trip to the Capitol. As of this writing, the current speaker lineup includes Congressional members and staffers to talk about infrastructure, a NHTSA official, and a speaker from NAM to discuss workforce. To see the up-to-date slate of speakers and sign up to attend, visit https://www.natm.com/regulatory_roundup.html
Meetings with legislators will happen both virtually and in-person for a small group of attendees. The NATM Government Affairs Committee has established talking points to ensure the needs of the industry are being heard. Talking points for 2021 are as follows:
While in-person attendees have already been selected, members interested in virtual legislator meetings scheduled to occur Sept. 20 – Oct. 1, can sign up online here: https://www.natm.com/regulatory_roundup.html.
If virtual legislator meetings are not workable for you, NATM invites all of its members to host their legislators for a plant tour at any time of year. Plant tours are an easy way to not only showcase member companies and their impact on the community, but are also an opportunity to discuss key priorities for the industry and business more specifically. NATM has invitation templates for members to use, and NATM staff will work with the Congressional office on scheduling, and can help companies prepare for the tour. If you are interested in hosting a plant visit, contact Assistant Director Meghan Ryan at Meghan.Ryan@natm.com or call NATM Headquarters at (785) 272-4433.
For members interested in attending the event in person, the next Regulatory Roundup and Capitol Hill Visits are scheduled for April 2022!