Maryland Trailer Laws Clarified

When Duane Pearce, the Maryland State Highway Administration, Motor Carrier Division’s safety and compliance manager, spoke at the Maryland Farm Bureau Truck Forum in Upper Marlboro on Feb. 29, some members of the Maryland racing community came away thinking there were new rules for horse trailers.

To alleviate their concerns, Pearce agreed to a follow-up conversation to set the record straight about commercial motor vehicle safety regulations and their exceptions for agricultural operations as well as weigh and inspection facilities and nonresident tags on Maryland trailers.

He assures that although some new and changed regulations have been adopted over time, Maryland law and the Code of Federal Regulations regarding vehicles required to enter weigh and inspection facilities have not changed. The federal motor carrier safety regulations were adopted by Maryland in 1986.

“I see this happen from time-to-time,” he says. “People sometimes go away with the idea there has been a change in regulations when in fact they may simply be learning about a topic for which they had a misconception or had previously been unfamiliar with details.”

That being the case, Pearce willingly again went over the rules that concerned horsemen in an effort to clarify them.

He says signs at highway weigh and inspection stations have always required all vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or a gross combined weight rating of truck and trailer combination exceeding 10,000 pounds (5 tons) to enter the scale house.

“That’s always been the case,” Pearce says. “The inspectors are not able to determine in every circumstance by looking at a truck going down the road if it is being used in the furtherance of a commercial venture or associated with a business or what its purpose is."

“I like to use this example: If I have a Winnebago that has a GVWR of 12,000 pounds and I’m taking my family to the campground, I am not bound by commercial vehicle inspection laws. But, if my business is playing in a band, going from venue to venue performing for profit, then all regulations apply to me because my vehicle [over 5 tons GVWR] is being used in the furtherance of a commercial endeavor.

In either case, I would have to enter the weigh and inspection stations in Maryland as directed by a properly placed traffic control device” or risk being stopped and fined. By passing a weigh station without entering in a vehicle or combination over 10,000 pounds GVWR/GCWR could result in a fine up to $1,000.

GVWR stickers/plates on trucks are usually located on the door or post for the driver’s side door and are usually located on the front of trailers on the VIN plate.

“I’m going to tell you transporting your horse and your neighbor’s horse for a trail ride or a barrel race, even if prize money is involved, may not be a commercial enterprise,” Pearce says. “As long as you are not transporting horses for profit or in connection with a business operation … I am not an accountant or tax professional, but as long as prize money is claimed as ordinary income for tax purposes and the underlying activities are not deducted as a business expense and corporate sponsorship is not involved, it would not be commercial use.”

Pearce also said if a noncommercial driver goes to trail rides and other non-commercial activities and must enter the same local weigh and inspection facility frequently, the driver could always ask the facility supervisor if he has to continue to enter on every trip. Ultimately, however, the regulations require all vehicles to enter. Remember, no one is exempt from obeying a traffic control device that includes the signs directing vehicles into weigh and inspection stations.

Another issue of interest to Maryland horsemen is out-of-state tags on horse trailers.

Pearce said he sees a lot of trailers with Maine registration because it is cheaper to register a trailer in Maine, but this practice may be in violation of the Maryland Transportation Article.

For example, The Staab Agency in Maine will register from one to nine trailers for $207 for up to 12 years, and in Maryland it is common practice for commercial shippers to do so, not only because it is inexpensive, but because there is no sales tax required on a trailer registered in Maine.

The bottom line, to be compliant with Maryland registration laws, for every trailer you have registered out of state, you must have one truck and trailer registered in the state of Maryland, Pearce said. Farm Area tags can be used in a 25-mile radius of a farm and are valid out of state so long as they are within the 25-mile radius of the farm.

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