Understanding Federal and State Trucking Regulations: A Guide for Truck Drivers and Carriers

Commercial vehicles are regulated at both the state and federal levels. For commercial trucks that operate across state borders (interstate), federal regulations typically override state regulations, though Tennessee and federal regulations are fairly closely aligned. Trucks that operate only within Tennessee State borders (intrastate) must abide by Tennessee commercial truck regulations.

Understanding Federal and State Trucking Regulations

Federal Commercial Trucking Regulations

The US Department of Transportation (USDOT) has full federal regulatory authority over all commercial vehicles that operate across state borders, which makes up the vast majority of large truck operations. Specifically, the DOT regulates commercial vehicles through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). The whole objective of the FMCSA, established in 2000, was to reduce the frequency of injuries and fatalities related to large commercial truck and bus accidents.

Any truck that weighs more than 10,000 pounds and across state lines for operations falls under the purview of the federal government. Tennessee, and most other states, closely mimic federal trucking regulations for intrastate operations.

Hours of Service

One of the most important aspects of overseeing large truck operations is ensuring that drivers do not operate while fatigued. The hours of service regulations established by the federal government set forth how many hours commercial truck drivers can operate during each day and during each work week.

Overall, drivers can be on duty for 14 hours a day, but they may only operate the vehicle for 11 of those hours. Drivers can operate for 11 hours after they have 10 or more consecutive hours off duty. After a 14-hour shift (which includes time for breaks and meals), the driver must have 10 consecutive hours off duty.

Drivers are required to take a 30-minute driving break after they have driven for eight cumulative hours without a 30-minute interruption already.

Drivers cannot operate for more than 60 hours in a seven-day stretch or 70 hours in an eight-day stretch. Drivers can restart a seven or eight-day consecutive period by taking 34 or more hours off duty.

Overall, the hours of service requirements are more complicated than this. We encourage you to speak to your employer or dig into regulations yourself so you understand every requirement you need to abide by on the roadway.


The FMCSA also requires that every large commercial truck be inspected, repaired, and maintained on a regular basis. All parts and accessories related to the safe operation of the larger truck must be in safe and proper working conditions at all times.

The federal government requires various inspections at different time periods throughout the year, and they also require that trucking companies or owner-operators keep records of these inspections for a specific amount of time. The inspections required by the FMCSA should occur before the vehicle is operated and then monthly and annually, with each of these time frames requiring different parts of the truck to be inspected.

Emergency Logging Devices

New guidance related to electronic logging devices indicates that most motor carriers and drivers who operate larger commercial vehicles are required to have ELDs installed. Drivers who operate under short-haul exceptions can use manual log books as opposed to electronic logging devices.

What Are The Tennessee Intrastate Commercial Trucking Regulations?

Tennessee Intrastate Commercial Trucking Regulations

For larger commercial vehicles over 10,000 pounds that do not operate across state borders, the state of Tennessee retains complete control over regulatory requirements, and drivers must carry a CDL. Vehicle inspection requirements from the state of Tennessee specifically name the brake systems, coupling devices, fuel systems, steering, suspension, frame, tires, lights, wheels, windshields, and wipers receive regular inspections.

Large commercial trucks operating within Tennessee borders can weigh more than 80,000 pounds under Tennessee law. Trucks should be no wider than eight feet and no taller than 13 feet 6 inches.

Every employer in Tennessee that uses large commercial trucks is required to ensure drivers obtain and maintain commercial driver’s licenses. Every truck driver must have a valid medical card stating that they are medically fit to operate a larger vehicle.

In Tennessee, commercial truck drivers will generally have to abide by federal hours of service requirements and electronic logging device requirements unless they qualify for a short-haul exception, which means the drivers must:

  • Operate within a 150-air-mile radius
  • Do not operate longer than 14 hours in a day
  • Start and end their shift in the same location
  • Have at least 10 hours off duty between shifts

Why Regulations Matter

The safe operation of larger commercial vehicles is absolutely crucial to ensure residents and visitors in Tennessee remain protected. These vehicles weigh much more than smaller passenger cars, and fewer regulations typically mean more accidents. When a larger commercial vehicle collides with a smaller passenger vehicle, the results are often catastrophic, with common injuries including spinal cord trauma, head injuries, traumatic brain injuries, amputations and crush injuries, and even death.

Do Regulations Matter After an Accident?

Regulations are important, even after an accident has already occurred. When a collision with a larger commercial truck affects others, whether in the form of property damage or injuries, victims may be able to file a lawsuit against the at-fault party. This could include a lawsuit against the driver, the trucking company responsible, or another party responsible for the operation of the vehicle.

Investigations enter these incidents are typically extensive and will certainly dig into the actions of the driver and the trucking company. Attorneys will examine the electronic logging devices, electronic data recorders, inspection records, and more to determine whether or not a failure to follow regulations contributed to the accident.

Crash victims may be able to recover a range of types of compensation if it is found that the driver or the company violated regulations and this violation caused the crash. Some of the main types of compensation available in these situations include coverage of medical expenses, lost wages, payment for out-of-pocket expenses, as well as compensation for physical and emotional pain and suffering damages.

If you have any questions about trucking regulations after an accident has occurred, we encourage you to reach out to a skilled truck accident lawyer in Nashville for help as soon as possible.