The Basics of Interstate Motor Carriers: A Helpful Guide for US Truckers

Who Is an Interstate Motor Carrier?


Interstate motor carriers, including truckers, are responsible for providing transport services across state lines. They typically move goods (or occasionally passengers) from one place to another. They are hugely important to the country’s economy as they facilitate interstate commerce.

Since they move from place to place and each state has its unique laws, these entities cannot be governed by state law. Interstate motor carriers are regulated by the federal government through the US Department of Transportation and its agencies, including the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA). Between them, these agencies have several laws and regulations that govern interstate commerce and commercial motor vehicles.

The laws are binding for interstate motor carrier business owners and for individual drivers of commercial motor vehicles. If you’re involved in the trucking business at any level, it is important that you understand some of the basic rules that affect your industry. Make sure you remain on the right side of the law!

Basic Interstate Motor Carrier Laws


Most of the regulations that bind interstate motor carriers are contained in Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Some of the primary rules and requirements are highlighted below for your convenience:


Licensing and Registration

Interstate motor carriers require FMSCA registration and license to operate. Once a carrier is registered, they are issued a Department of Transportation (DOT) number. The DOT number helps the FMSCA identify motor carriers while collecting their information and monitoring compliance.

Generally, only interstate motor carriers are required to register for DOT numbers. But in some states, intrastate carriers are also required to register for the unique numbers.

The FMSCA has a list of all the states that require DOT numbers for their intrastate carriers. If your business also involves intrastate transportation, you can contact your local motor carrier registration agency or your attorney for help with the registration process.

Hours of Service Regulations

These FMSCA regulations specify how many hours commercial motor vehicle or truck drivers are allowed to be on duty. The rules stipulate specific hours for driving and resting to ensure that drivers are alert at all times when they are driving. Consequently, commercial vehicle drivers are required to do the following:

  • Take ten consecutive hours off duty before returning to driving.
  • Drive for not more than 11 hours within the next 14 hours after taking ten consecutive hours off duty.
  • Take a minimum of a 30-minute break after driving for eight consecutive hours
  • Take a 36 hour break after 60 hours on duty within seven consecutive days or 70 hours on duty within eight consecutive days.

There are some exceptions to the hours of service rules concerning short-distance travel, driving in adverse conditions, and the 30-minute break requirement. You can consult a skilled attorney to understand how these exceptions work and how they might apply to your case.


Alcohol Testing Regulations

Interstate motor carriers are required by law to conduct drug and alcohol tests for their drivers. These requirements are in place to ensure public safety and minimize the likelihood of DUI-related road accidents.

According to the rules, these tests are to be conducted randomly and at specific statutorily mandated times, including;

  • When a new driver is hired
  • After an accident involving a fatality
  • Where an accident occurs and the driver is issued a citation (if there is critical damage to another vehicle or serious bodily injury that requires treatment away from the scene occurred).

Under the rules, the motor carrier shall not permit any driver who fails the test to drive or operate a vehicle. Drivers are also prohibited from driving or performing any other safety function within four hours of consuming alcohol.


Physical Fitness and Screening Regulations

An interstate carrier has to ensure that its truck drivers meet the statutory physical fitness requirements. Every driver is required to undergo a physical fitness exam conducted by one of the approved medical examiners listed on the FMSCA national registry.

After a successful screening, the medical examiner would issue each driver a certificate valid for two years. Those whose health conditions prevent them from passing the test cannot work as drivers of commercial vehicles.


Insurance Coverage Requirements

The FMSCA requires interstate carriers to have certain insurance policies for their business. The insurance requirements differ depending on several factors, including;

  • The nature of goods to be transported (whether they are hazardous materials)
  • The weight of the trucks
  • The number of passengers the vehicle carries (if any).

The FMSCA insurance requirements are unavoidable as you are required to submit some of the insurance paperwork while you’re applying for your motor carrier license.


Fuel Tax Compliance

If your trucking business operates across two or more state lines and your vehicles meet specific weight requirements, you’ll need to comply with the provisions of the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) and International Registration Plan (IRP). Both programs are in place to enable motor carriers to pay fuel taxes and file their paperwork efficiently across various states.

How an Attorney Can Help


The risks involved in interstate trucking predispose drivers to some injury-prone situations, and the laws were made to protect them and the public from avoidable accidents, especially when hazardous materials are involved. Due to the attendant risks of the job, the question for many truck drivers is not “how do trucking injuries occur?” It is “how do I get compensation for my injuries if they occur?”

If you were injured in your course of duty due to your employer’s negligence or non-compliance with federal regulation, you could bring personal injury claims against them. This applies whether you work for an intrastate carrier or an interstate carrier.

Hurt Trucker Attorneys are a firm of experienced attorneys for injured truckers. With several decades in the business, we have the skill and knowledge required to provide superior legal representation in this field. We are dedicated to serving injured truckers as they fight for their entitlements and benefits, and we have numerous results to show for it.

If you have motor carrier questions or need legal representation, do not hesitate to contact us to schedule a consultation.