Strategies, Challenges, and Answers

What Is A Commercial Motor Vehicle Anyway?

In order to understand many of the laws surrounding commercial driving, you have to know the definition of a commercial motor vehicle.  Let’s use my pickup truck to discuss what is a commercial motor vehicle.

Nevada law adopts the federal definition of a “commercial motor vehicle” as its own.  See NRS 706.675


Federal regulations define a “commercial motor vehicle” as follows:

Commercial motor vehicle (CMV) means a motor vehicle that has any of the following characteristics:

(1) A gross vehicle weight (GVW), gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR), gross combination weight (GCW), or gross combination weight rating (GCWR) of 4,537 kilograms (10,001 pounds) or more.

(2) Regardless of weight, is designed or used to transport 16 or more passengers, including driver.

(3) Regardless of weight, is used in the transportation of hazardous materials and is required to be placarded pursuant to 49 CFR part 172, subpart F.

49 C.F.R. § 350.105.

Saving the discussion of HazMat for another day, let’s focus on the other two sub paragraphs.

It is easy to count the number of seats in a passenger van.  We have all seen and have probably ridden in a 15 passenger van.  If there are 16 or more seats in the van, it is a commercial motor vehicle.  But my truck is not a van, so let’s move on.

Next you ask, what are those that strange terms, GVW or GVWR or GCW or GCWR?

Let’s first distinguish between what is “vehicle weight” and what is a” combination weight”.  The reason for the distinction is that some vehicles can tow trailers.  Where you are talking about the vehicle alone you look at the “vehicle weight”.  Where the vehicle is towing a trailer, you have to consider the “combination vehicle weight” to determine whether the vehicle is commercial vehicle.

Now let’s talk about the difference between a vehicle’s “gross weight” vs. the “gross weight rating”.

Here is the best way to think about the difference.  The “gross vehicle weight rating” is the amount of weight that the design engineers have calculated that vehicle can safely handle.

Notice I use the word “handle” and I don’t use the word “carry”.  The word carry would be deceiving because you might think that the weight rating has to do with the weight of the cargo alone.  But we are not talking about the cargo capacity alone.

When calculating the “gross vehicle weight rating”, the engineers are considering how much weight the vehicle can safely handle based on the power of the engine, the strength of the axles and wheels and the other structural components of the vehicle.

When determining the “gross vehicle weight rating”, you have to add the weight of the vehicle itself, plus the weight of its passengers and fuel and then top it off with the max weight of cargo the vehicle is safely designed to carry.  That is how the engineers determine the appropriate “gross vehicle weight rating” for the vehicle.

For example, my pickup truck has a GVWR of 7,050 lbs.  Now we know that my pickup truck’s design can handle up to 7,050 considering the weight of the vehicle itself, the passengers, the fuel, the oil and the load.

So based on the definition of the GVWR, I know that as I drive my pickup truck to work every day, I am not driving a commercial motor vehicle.

But how does “gross vehicle weight rating” compare to “gross vehicle weight”?  While “gross vehicle weight rating” is a designed number, the “gross vehicle weight” is an exact number that can be calculated using a scale.

For example, what happens if I load my truck up to the maximum designed capacity of 7.050 lbs, and then I add an additional 4,000 lbs of gravel into the bed of the truck.  Will the truck still move?  I don’t know.  But I do know that I have increased the “gross vehicle weight” from 7,050 to 11,050.  I have in fact converted what was a non-commercial vehicle into a commercial motor vehicle, because the gross vehicle weight is now in excess of of 10,000 lbs.  I promise I won’t do that.

If you have questions about commercial motor vehicle and trucking in Nevada, don’t hesitate to contact Mike Mills at Bauman, Loewe, Witt & Maxwell at 702-240-6060 x114.  Mike will be glad to talk to you.