Cross your T's and DOT your I's

Knowing DOT's rules will prevent costly fines and disruptions

You face daily challenges of complying with a variety of regulatory requirements imposed by federal and local government agencies and departments. A government agency may demand specific action from you regarding environmental protection, occupational safety, fire prevention, building construction and maintenance, company licensing and taxation.

With respect to commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) and trucks used in a roofing company's daily operations, the Department of Transportation's (DOT's) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has regulatory authority, and it is critical you are aware of and comply with FMCSA's rules.

FMCSA originally was an agency of the Federal Highway Administration; since 2000 it has been part of DOT. Its primary mission is to prevent CMV-related fatalities and injuries. FMCSA develops regulations to test and license CMV drivers and enforces regulations intended to ensure the safe movement of hazardous materials on U.S. roads and highways.


FMCSA defines a CMV as any self-propelled or towed motor vehicle used on a highway for interstate commerce to transport passengers or property when the vehicle:

  • Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating, or gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight, of 10,001 pounds or more, whichever is greater
  • Is designed or used to transport more than eight passengers, including the driver, for compensation
  • Is designed or used to transport more than 15 passengers, including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation
  • Is used for transporting hazardous materials requiring placarding


For purposes of obtaining a CMV commercial driver's license (CDL), the federal standard requires states to issue a CDL according to the following license classifications:

  • Class A: Any combination of vehicles with a gross combination weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more provided the gross vehicle weight rating of the vehicle(s) being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds
  • Class B: Any single vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating of 26,001 pounds or more or any such vehicle towing a vehicle not in excess of 10,000 pounds gross vehicle weight rating
  • Class C: Any single vehicle or combination of vehicles that does not meet the definition of Class A or Class B but is either designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver, or any size vehicle used in the transportation of a quantity of hazardous materials requiring a placard

Drivers who operate special types of CMVs must pass additional tests to obtain an endorsement placed on their CDLs. Endorsements allow drivers to operate specialized CMVs such as those carrying hazardous materials requiring a placard (H endorsement).

Generally, for flammable and combustible liquids and gases, the hazardous materials aggregate amount requiring placarding is 1,001 pounds or more; such hazardous materials may include propane tanks, solvent-based adhesives, cleaners, coatings and mastics. The critical compliance issue to remember is that once the 1,001-pound threshold is met or exceeded on any load regardless of vehicle type, a placard is required and the driver must have a CDL with an H endorsement.

Alcohol testing

FMCSA regulations require drug and alcohol testing for any CMV driver required to have a CDL. Alcohol consumption is restricted during the period when a CDL driver is performing safety-sensitive functions. A safety-sensitive function means from the time a driver begins work or is required to be ready to work until the time he or she is relieved from work and all responsibility for performing work. This may include time waiting to be dispatched, inspecting or servicing the CMV, loading or unloading, time at the controls and time spent attending a disabled vehicle.

Performing safety-sensitive functions is prohibited while consuming alcohol, while having a breath alcohol concentration of 0.04 percent or greater as indicated by an alcohol breath test, or within four hours after consuming alcohol. FMCSA regulations provide five required alcohol testing categories an employer must conduct:

  • Post-accident—after all accidents involving a fatality and accidents where a citation has been issued to the driver indicating the driver's performance may have contributed to the accident
  • Reasonable suspicion—after a trained supervisor or company official observes behavior or appearances characteristic of alcohol misuse
  • Random—unannounced testing before, during or after performing safety-sensitive functions
  • Return-to-duty—conducted after a driver has violated alcohol regulations and returns to performing safety-sensitive functions
  • Follow-up—unannounced testing for drivers who have returned to performing safety-sensitive functions (At least six tests must be conducted during the first 12 months after a driver has returned to work. Follow-up testing may be extended for up to 60 months after a driver has returned to work.)

Refusing to submit to an alcohol test or consuming alcohol within eight hours after an accident or until tested for alcohol also is prohibited under the regulations.

Drug testing

Drug testing includes the five categories of alcohol testing plus pre-employment testing. Drug tests are conducted using urine specimen collection with strict protocols and chain-of-custody requirements, and the sample analysis must be performed by laboratories certified and monitored by the Department of Health and Human Services. The specimens are analyzed for the following drugs or drug categories:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Amphetamines
  • Opiates
  • Phencyclidine (PCP)

Be vigilant about safety

FMCSA's Office of Research and Technology indicates a commitment to safety from management carries over to drivers. In its Tech Brief: Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver Retention and Safety, FMCSA states companies surveyed said since their safety incentive programs were initiated, the incidence of insurance claims, workers' compensation claims and crashes reduced 65 percent. FMCSA notes many safety-related incentive programs include recognition and safety bonuses for passing certain milestones for accident- and incident-free miles driven.

FMCSA rules are complex, and violations may result in substantial fines. A driver who uses a handheld cellular device or cell phone or texts while operating a CMV may receive a $2,750 fine, and the fleet owner may receive an $11,000 fine unless the fleet owner has a written policy forbidding the use of the devices and the driver in question has signed off agreeing not to use those devices.

Operating CMVs is an everyday occurrence in the roofing industry and essential to a successful business. You must be committed to safety, establish driver qualification procedures and manage CMV operations to stay in compliance.

Harry Dietz is NRCA's director of risk management.

Why safety is good business

According to DOT's FMCSA:

  • In 2005, there were 5,212 fatalities and 91,993 injuries from large-truck crashes.
  • A crash with injuries costs about $200,000 per crash.
  • The average cost of a large-truck crash involving a fatality is $3.6 million per crash.
  • Crashes are devastating in terms of fatalities and injuries, financial costs, damaged reputations, the inability to attract and retain good drivers, and general goodwill in the industry and community.

The good news is many crashes are preventable:

  • In 1997, 22 percent of large-truck fatal crashes involving more than one vehicle were speed-related.
  • In 2003, about 2 percent of drivers with a CDL used controlled substances and 0.2 percent consumed alcohol (0.04 or higher blood alcohol content) while performing their duties.
  • About 5.5 percent of fatal truck crashes are caused by driver fatigue.
  • In 2005, of the 696 CMV drivers who died in truck crashes, 344 were not wearing safety belts. In 2006, a study found only 59 percent of CMV drivers wear safety belts.


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