Where Do Trucking Regulations Come From? - Part 1

Understanding Trucking Regulations

In this four-part series, ICSA explains the basics of trucking regulations that impact its members – where they come from, what all those acronyms mean, who decides their cost, and what you can do about proposed regulations. Along the way, ICSA will provide some working definitions… but you can always turn to the Glossary of Terms under the Resources tab of the ICSA website.

By Warren Hoemann, ICSA Contributor & Industry Expert

Part 1 – Where Do Trucking Regulations Come From?

Regulations are laws, period. That is, just as with laws, you must comply with the regulations or else face penalties or sanctions. Regulations just come from a different source than the statutes coming out of state legislatures or Congress. They come from “regulatory agencies” which have been given the power to oversee some aspect of life.

How do the regulatory agencies get that power? It’s the textbook civics lesson: the U.S. Constitution gives Congress the law-making authority. Congress, in turn, adopts statutory charters for the various federal regulatory agencies. Those charters say what an agency can do and must do… what the agency’s jurisdiction is. At times, Congress adds specific directions on a subject.

The Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act, passed by Congress in 1999, is a good example for truckers. It contained the statutory charter for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). FMCSA’s charter gives the agency jurisdiction over the operation of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) in interstate commerce. FMCSA can regulate interstate motor carriers, bus companies and CMV drivers. This charter also mentions freight forwarders and brokers, giving FMCSA jurisdiction over them as well.

However, FMCSA’s charter makes no mention of shippers and receivers – your customers. FMCSA cannot directly regulate shippers and receivers – except that Congress later added specific directions for FMCSA to prevent anyone, shippers and receivers included, from coercing a CMV driver to violate hours of service (HOS) regulations. On that point alone, FMCSA can adopt regulations directly affecting shippers and receivers.

Private citizens, including motor carriers, trucking trade associations such as ICSA, safety groups, and commercial vehicle enforcement agencies, can petition a regulatory agency to adopt a rule or make a regulatory change. But by far the chief source of federal regulations is Congress -- through an agency’s statutory charter, through specific regulatory directions, or through adoption of a federal program which needs rules to run it.

In Part Two of Understanding Trucking Regulations, we will tackle all those confounding acronyms for the regulatory agencies which impact trucking, plus the steps in the federal rulemaking process.

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