What Is a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV)?

Understanding the definition of a CMV is extremely important because drivers and motor carriers who operate CMVs must comply with additional requirements.


Daren Hansen - Sr. Editor - Transportation Safety - J. J. Keller & Associates, Inc.

September 11 , 2020

A commercial motor vehicle (CMV) can be one of two definitions in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) relating to motor vehicles used in commerce. Each definition must be looked at individually and applied to specific areas of the FMCSRs.

Basic CMV definition: 49 CFR 390.5

The basic CMV definition is found in 49 CFR 390.5. This definition refers to a vehicle used on a highway, in interstate commerce, that meets any one of the following criteria:

  • Has a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or gross combination weight rating (GCWR), or gross vehicle weight (GVW) or gross combination weight (GCW) of 10,001 pounds or more, whichever is greater;
  • Is designed to transport more than 8 passengers (including the driver) for compensation;
  • Is designed to transport 16 or more people including the driver, and is not used to transport passengers for compensation; or
  • Is transporting hazardous materials in quantities requiring the vehicle to be placarded.

This definition includes smaller commercial vehicles, as well as those requiring a commercial driver’s license (CDL) to operate.

Parts 390 through 396 apply to drivers of vehicles meeting this definition. Some of the areas of regulation include:

  • Driver qualification,
  • Hours of service,
  • Cargo securement,
  • Vehicle marking,
  • Parts and Accessories, and
  • Inspection and maintenance.

If a motor carrier is engaged solely in intrastate commerce, its state may have adopted different requirements for motor carriers and drivers. Often states have a state-specific CMV definition, modified safety regulations, and/or exceptions not available to interstate carriers and drivers.

CDL CMV Definition: 49 CFR 383.5

A different definition of "commercial motor vehicle" is used for Parts 382 and 383.

A commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is a motor vehicle or combination of motor vehicles used in commerce to transport passengers or property if the motor vehicle is a:

  • Combination Vehicle (Group A) — Having a gross combination weight rating (GCWR) or gross combination weight (GCW) of 26,001 pounds or more, whichever is greater. The towed unit(s) must have a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or gross vehicle weight (GVW) of more than 10,000 pounds, whichever is greater; or
  • Heavy Straight Vehicle (Group B) — Having a GVWR or GVW of 26,001 pounds or more, whichever is greater; or
  • Small Vehicle (Group C) — Does not meet Group A or B requirements but is either:
    • Designed to transport 16 or more passengers, including the driver; or
    • Of any size and is used in the transportation of hazardous materials as defined in §383.5.

The definition of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) found in CFR 49 §383.5 speaks directly to drivers and motor carriers that operate large vehicles and those who operate certain specialized types of vehicles. This definition covers both interstate and intrastate drivers and motor carriers. It also applies to the commercial driver's license (CDL) standards in Part 383 and the drug and alcohol testing requirements in Part 382.

CMV Requirements

Understanding the CMV definition is extremely important because drivers and motor carriers who operate CMVs as defined in §383.5 must comply with additional requirements, including:

CMV Requirement Exceptions

There are very few CMV exceptions. In both Parts 390 and 383, exceptions can be found for certain operations, including drivers of military vehicles and firefighters. See §§ 390.3 and 383.3 for complete details.

When it comes to regulatory requirements for CMV operations, knowing what you need to comply with and how to comply can be confusing. The Encompass® Platform can help you comply with the FMCSR requirements of CMV and non-CMV vehicles. It provides guidance on what you need to track for all your vehicles and drivers. Request a conversation with a compliance specialist today to learn how the Encompass® Platform can end the confusion of DOT compliance.


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