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Don’t Be A Punchline

It’s that time of year again: another Super Bowl has come and gone.  Who doesn’t love a good commercial?  Whether your team was in the big game or not, we all seemed to enjoy the game breaks featuring new zany ad campaigns.  But what about the flops who fail to make an impression within the first few seconds and cause you to turn away for another hotwing?  Most commercial trucks are similar.  Big carriers, big trucks, and big cargo, equate to an obvious big commercial enterprise, but what about the grey areas of less obvious “commerce”?  As we explored which vehicles fit commercial operations a few weeks ago, this week the article will explore which operations constitute commercial purposes.

In order to be considered a Commercial Motor Vehicle, the vehicle must have been used in commerce.  This begs the question – what is commerce?  The Illinois vehicle code doesn’t shed much light on the subject as it defines commerce as “trade, commerce, or transportation”… perhaps they forgot not to define a word as the very word they’re trying to define.  Merriam-Webster would suggest “activities that relate to the buying and selling of goods and services.”

If commerce is limited to the above definitions, why would there be an exemption on both the state and federal level for police and fire vehicles only when responding to emergency calls?  Wouldn’t they also be exempt when operating their emergency vehicles to and from a touch-a-truck event or while using their rig to pickup meals for the firehouse?  Simply, NO!

The key term is: COMPENSATION. If the driver is being compensated: commerce. If the driver has the potential to be compensated: commerce. If the driver is bartering goods or services in exchange for his use or operation of the vehicle: commerce. Everyone understands: company truck + compensated driver = commerce.

What about the driver operating his company’s tree trimming truck on the weekend so he can trim his personal trees around his residence? not commerce. What if that driver was operating his company’s tree trimming truck on the weekend so he can trim trees at his rented house, in exchange for a free months’ rent? commerce. What about the driver operating his RV from campsite to campsite with his family on weekends? not commerce.

Perhaps that driver was operating his RV, pulling his racecar from track to track where he had the potential of winnings: commerce.  The FMCSA has provided some guidance on this suggesting driver’s would be exempt depending how they file their taxes, what expenses they deduct, and whether corporate sponsorship was involved.  All in all, confusing.

I know what you’re thinking… “Whoa! I know a guy that’s been doing that for ____ years, and never had a problem.”  This may be true, but at what cost?

When a minivan blows a stop sign and pulls out in front of a sizable truck which kills all occupants of the minivan, police may determine the minivan was at fault.  But what happens when the civil case swirls around in the court system for a couple years and they determine the Commercial Motor Vehicle driver was not licensed properly and shouldn’t have been on the road?  Perhaps a driver should err on the side of the caution and obtain their proper Commercial Driver’s License.

There are some police officers reading this licking their chops: “I know plenty of drivers who are operating in those grey areas and this is all I needed to confirm my suspicions.”  Try again!  The burden of proof for criminal prosecutions is still proof beyond a reasonable doubt.  Is the investigation complete enough to stand up in front of a judge and swear under oath the driver was being compensated?  If not, officers better also err on the side of caution.

Commercial licensing laws are in place for a reason.  Their broadness shouldn’t be used as an excuse for drivers to say, “But I didn’t understand.”  If you’re operating in the grey, get licensed.  That way your financial well-being doesn’t become the punch line to a bad TV commercial.

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