Citations: Federal Law vs. State Law

Kevin Anderson Q & A, Regulations, Transportation

Q:  Is there any way that interstate motor carriers can combat states, such as California, that continually cite drivers referencing state law rather than federal law?  Is there support for the proposition that, as interstate motor carriers, the citations received should be based on federal law rather than state law?

A:  The trucking industry is heavily regulated at both the federal and state levels.  While federal laws often “pre-empt” conflicting state laws, interstate motor carriers must not only abide by federal regulations, they must also abide by the laws of the state in which they are operating.  The applicable regulation is 49 CFR 392.2, which states:

Every commercial motor vehicle must be operated in accordance with the laws, ordinances, and regulations of the jurisdiction in which it is being operated. However, if a regulation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration imposes a higher standard of care than that law, ordinance or regulation, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration regulation must be complied with.


As you can see, when you are operating in a state you must abide by its local laws, ordinances, and regulations.  However, if the FMCSA regulations impose a higher standard of care, then the motor carrier is held to that higher standard.  Essentially the FMCSA sets the minimum requirements for regulations.  The states may impose higher or more stringent requirements, but never lower.

It will be interesting to see how CSA 2010 influences the way states reference violations.  Under the current form of CSA 2010, if a carrier or CMV driver is cited for a violation in a crash or roadside inspection report that is not listed in the Safety Measurement System (SMS) severity tables, then that violation will not count towards the carrier’s or driver’s SMS data.  Because state laws are not listed in the SMS severity tables, it is likely that many more violations will be written referencing the applicable CFR (federal law) rather than a state law.