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What is Interstate Commerce?

Interstate commerce is any commercial movement of goods or passengers across state lines or that involves more than one state. This post explains what qualifies a movement as interstate commerce, and, if so, what regulations apply.

What is interstate commerce?

Interstate commerce refers to the purchase, sale or exchange of commodities, and transportation of people, money or goods between different states.

It is defined in 49 CFR 390.5:

“Interstate commerce” means trade, traffic, or transportation in the United States—

  • Between a place in a State and a place outside of such State (including a place outside of the United States);
  • Between two places in a State through another State or a place outside of the United States; or
  • Between two places in a State as part of trade, traffic, or transportation originating or terminating outside the State or the United States.

It is regulated by the federal government as authorized under Article I of the U.S. Constitution. The federal government can also regulate commerce within a state when it may impact interstate movement of goods and services and may prohibit state actions that are barriers to such movement.

What is the purpose of defining interstate commerce?

The purpose of defining interstate commerce is to ensure the movement of goods across state lines, or those that originated outside that state and/or the country, is regulated by the federal government using one uniform set of laws.  In the case of trucking-related movement, those laws are the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.  

If a truck never crosses state lines, does that mean it isn’t in interstate commerce?

Not necessarily.

Often, where the goods originated impacts whether a load qualifies as an interstate commerce movement. If the goods originated outside the state or country, then the in-state movement of those goods could fall under the definition of interstate commerce. For example, if a driver picks up a load at a seaport, and delivers to a consignee in the same state, the movement is considered interstate commerce because the goods originated in another country or state.

Why is it important to understand interstate commerce?

Whether you operate in inter- or intrastate commerce determines which safety rules you should abide by, though they are often very similar. For example, some states have slightly different Hours of Service rules which provide intrastate drivers additional flexibility.