Federal laws/regulations; Connecticut laws/regulations;

OLR Research Report

The Connecticut General Assembly


January 31, 1994 94-R-0240


FROM: James J.Fazzalaro, Principal Analyst

RE: Radar Detectors in Intrastate Commercial Vehicles

You asked whether the recently adopted federal regulation prohibiting radar detectors in interstate commercial vehicles that are subject to federal safety standards will also affect Connecticut trucks operating solely intrastate.


The federal ban on radar detectors in vehicles subject to federal control and engaged in interstate commerce will apply to some solely intrastate commercial vehicles, but not all of them. Federal motor carrier safety regulations have been extended by reference to intrastate commercial vehicles that exceed 18,000 pounds gross weight or carry hazardous chemicals requiring placards under federal regulation. Since the same federal regulations that apply to interstate vehicles apply to these intrastate vehicles, so does the radar detector ban. However, intrastate vehicles up to 18,000 pounds are not subject to the federal standards even though the federal regulations apply to interstate vehicles down to 10,001 pounds gross weight.


Scope of Federal Standards

Federal law authorizes the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to adopt safety regulations for vehicles and drivers engaged in interstate commerce. These safety regulations apply to any commercial motor vehicle that transports passengers or property when: (1) it has a gross weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more, (2) it is designed to transport more than 10 passengers, including the driver, or (3) it transports hazardous materials in quantities that require placards under federal hazardous materials regulations.

In the 1992 Department of Transportation Appropriations Act, the U. S. Congress directed the Secretary of Transportation to initiate rulemaking for a national ban on radar detectors in commercial motor vehicles. The FHWA published its notice of proposed rulemaking on January 24, 1992. On December 21, 1993, the rule became final.

The rule prohibits a driver of an interstate commercial motor vehicle subject to other federal safety regulations from driving a vehicle equipped with a radar detector, and prohibits any motor carrier from requiring or permitting a driver to violate this requirement. The definition of a radar detector includes devices that detect radio microwaves, laser beams, or any "future speed measurement technology" used by enforcement personnel to measure commercial vehicle speeds on public roads for enforcement purposes. If a radar detector is (1) transported outside the driver's compartment of the vehicle and (2) is completely inaccessible to, inoperable by, and imperceptible to the driver while operating the vehicle, it is excluded from the ban. (The driver's compartment of a passenger carrying vehicle includes the passenger seating area.) (49 CFR 390.5, 392.71)

Extension of Standards to Intrastate Vehicles

The ban does not specifically apply to intrastate vehicles, since these are beyond the scope of federal safety regulatory authority in this area. But the FHWA clearly contemplated the possible extension of the ban to intrastate vehicles by state authorities. It states in its final rule "The FHWA realizes that the final rule will encourage States to enforce the ban on radar detectors in CMVs (commercial motor vehicles) engaged in intrastate as well as interstate commerce as part of the MCSAP (the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program)" (58 FR 67373, December 21, 1993). Furthermore, FHWA acknowledged that vehicles meeting the federal commercial vehicle definition and used exclusively in intrastate commerce might be indirectly affected by the regulation because under MCSAP "most states adopt the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and enforce the requirements with respect to both interstate and intrastate drivers and carriers" (58 FR 67374).

Connecticut participates in MCSAP which is an 80% federally-funded safety inspection program carried on by the DMV. It functions separately from the State Police weight and safety inspection units, but both of them enforce the federal regulations as state regulations under the authority initially granted by PA 84-404 and subsequently limited by PA 86-113.

The law had given the commissioner of the Department of Public Safety (DPS) the authority to make reasonable regulations concerning the safe storage, transportation, and pipeline transmission of hazardous chemicals. It allowed him to adopt certain specific parts of federal regulations and standards of the National Fire Protection Association by reference (CGS 29-377). In 1984, the General Assembly added a broad authority to this hazardous chemical law by allowing the referenced federal regulations to be "made applicable to any commercial motor vehicle unless exempted under the provisions of the code" (PA 84-404). This, in effect, allowed the federal safety regulations to be enforced upon intrastate commercial vehicles, no matter what they were carrying, that met the federal definition of at least 10,001 pounds gross weight rating, design for transporting more than 10 people, or use to transport hazardous material.

The law was briefly modified in 1985 to limit the application of the referenced regulations to intrastate carriers of hazardous materials, chemicals, or waste. Under this act, the regulations could not be applied to other intrastate commercial vehicles until October 1, 1986 (PA 85-390). This change was undone by a subsequent act (PA 85-533) and the law reverted to the 1984 requirements.

In 1986, the intrastate application was limited to vehicles with gross weights of at least 18,000 pounds or which transport hazardous chemicals (PA 86-113). Thus, the regulations no longer could apply to vehicles between 10,000 and 18,000 pounds carrying other than hazardous materials in intrastate commerce, even though they would be subject to them if they were in interstate commerce. The law was changed several times thereafter, but not in a way which materially affects your questions.

DPS regulations now reference 49 CFR Parts 388 and 390-397 (Conn. Agencies Regs. 29-337-2a(bb)). They adopt the regulations verbatim except for the minimum driver age for an intrastate vehicle, which is 18 instead of 21 in the federal regulations.

Since the federal radar detector ban is contained in 49 CFR Parts 390 and 392, it is within those parts that have been incorporated in the state regulations. Thus, it would appear that, subject to the definitional limitations contained in the federal regulation, the ban could be enforced on intrastate vehicles that are at least 18,000 pounds gross weight or are carrying hazardous materials.