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Many draft horse owners have a pick-up truck and a stock trailer. This is almost a necessity in the modern horse world. Most drivers feel secure that their license is sufficient and their trailer is in compliance with the law, since the salesman told them so. Since the pick-up truck driver is not driving a tractor-trailer, many believe there are no license restrictions. This clearly was the case until Congress passed the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act effective April 1st, 1992. In addition to this Act, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations also come into play and need to be analyzed in order to discuss the issue at hand.
The Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act was passed in order to make certain that individuals driving large trucks are qualified to do so. The Act allows each state to issue special driver’s licenses and establishes minimal standards that each state must meet to license commercial drivers.
Any driver of a truck and trailer where the gross vehicle weight is more than 26,000 lbs. is required to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL). The CDL is obtained from the state where the applicant resides and requires far more than just an application. A written test and driving test is required along with a background check and medical clearance. Further, the Act requires that all CDL drivers maintain a log book of all trips over 100 miles.
There are few exceptions to the CDL license requirements; however, one of the common exceptions involves drivers of farm vehicles. Farm plates create an exemption to the CDL requirement but are very restricted. Generally, you may not travel more than 100 miles from your farm. Further, you cannot be hauling for hire and must be transporting your own livestock or product.
The penalty for violating Federal law is very severe. If the license provisions of the Act are violated, a civil penalty not to exceed $2,500 can be imposed. Further, in aggravated cases, the penalty rises to a criminal violation with a fine not to exceed $5,000 or up to 90 days in prison, or both. It is important to note that the Act also subjects an employer to these penalties if the employer uses a commercial driver who does not have a proper CDL license.
I have often been asked the question concerning the requirement of keeping a log book, medical card or CDL license if the driver is not driving a tractor-trailer. In order to answer this question it is important to review the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. Weight is the critical requirement in understanding the law. If the vehicle involved, or combination of vehicles, has a GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) or GCVWR (Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating) of less than 10,001 lbs., you do not need a log book, medical card or CDL. However, if the unit being driven has a GVWR or GCVWR of 10,001 lbs. or more, you may be subject to keeping a log book and medical card, depending on the circumstances which I will discuss. (Please note that the GVWR is determined by the manufacturer and should be marked on the trailer, usually by a plate. The GCVWR is determined by simply adding the GVWR of both vehicles.)
If you haul horses for a fee, you are considered a commercial unit by the United States Department of Transportation and you must follow the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. This means that you must carry a log book, medical card and safety equipment such as flares, triangles, fire extinguishers, etc. and your vehicle must have the required lights, safety chains, brakes and breakaway brake. If you are commercial, you are also required to have a Federal inspection sticker, ID number and certain signage on the vehicle. You do not, however, need a CDL if your weight is 26,000 lbs. or less.
The tricky aspect of the law and regulations is that you may be required to maintain a log book, medical card and safety equipment even if you do not haul horses for money. The United States Department of Transportation considers commercial to mean operating a commercial stable, rodeo and even hauling horses to shows with the intent to make a profit. Remember, however, that if you only travel in your state, you do not have to be concerned about the Federal regulations. But, you will have to check the intrastate regulations of the state in question.
Having discussed the requirements, it is important that we understand the weight definitions and how they apply. GVW (Gross Vehicle Weight) means the actual weight of the trailer and its complete load. This weight is determined by loading the horses, tack, feed, hay, straw, etc. into the fully equipped trailer (mats, spare tires, etc.). GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) is the weight specified by the manufacturer as the recommended maximum loaded weight. For horse trailers, this value is determined by axle and coupler capacity. Thus, a trailer will be rated at 10,000 lbs. GVWR if it has two 5,000 lb. axles and a ball coupler rated at 10,000 lbs. Loading the trailer in excess of GVWR is not only illegal and can subject the driver to fines and penalties, but is also unsafe.
GCVWR (Gross Combined Vehicle Weight Rating) is the value determined by the manufacturer as the recommended maximum loaded weight of a combination of vehicles. This means the tow vehicle plus the trailer. GCVWR is determined by simply adding the GVWR of the towing vehicle and towed unit with its load.
Now that we understand the above, let me throw in another weight measure. "Unladen weight" is the weight of the trailer equipped with all equipment such as mats, spare tires, etc., but empty of its load. Generally, this is the way you receive the trailer when it is purchased. The laden weight is generally stated on the Certificate of Origin or the Title of the trailer.
All of these weight definitions are important to know and understand, as most states register trailers by weight. Many states determine license plate classification according to the GVWR or GVW.
Thus, if you are hauling horses for a fee and the GCVWR of the combined vehicles is greater than 10,001 lbs., and you travel out of state, you are required to keep a log book, have a medical card and appropriate equipment as discussed above. However, you do not need a CDL if the weight of the combined vehicles is less than 26,001 lbs.
Another question is should a driver with a combined vehicle rate of over 10,001 lbs., but less than 26,001 lbs., pull in at a weigh station? This is somewhat of a gray area. Each state has a different weigh station policy. My experience is that unless you are driving a semi or vehicle in excess of 26,001 lbs., it is not necessary to pull into a weigh station. Generally, the weigh station is too busy with tractor-trailers to bother with a pick-up and horse trailer and will waive you on. However, state enforcement officials have the option to enforce the regulations as they determine. Further, some D.O.T. checkpoints refer to Vehicles with trailer or with livestock. If the request is for vehicles with trailer or with livestock, then you must pull in. Otherwise, it has been my experience that it is not necessary to pull into a weigh station.
In conclusion, it is important to understand the different weight terminology and requirements for driving the vehicle in which you are hauling your horses. Whether you are traveling intrastate or interstate, as well as the weight of the vehicle, will determine what rules and regulations you are under, and, if it is necessary for you to obtain a medical card, log book and other safety features for your vehicle. The weight of the vehicle will also determine the license requirements of the driver. Be sure to understand the gross vehicle weight rating and gross combined vehicle weight rating of your unit and keep your load within those restrictions.
Enough legal talk-it’s time to hitch horses!
Ken is a practicing attorney in Myerstown, Pennsylvania, where a good bit of his practice involves negligence cases. Ken and his wife, Karen, own Sunny Hill Farm Belgians, and they have been exhibiting their six horse hitch for the past few years at most major shows in the east.