Lack of CMV ID Suggestive of Illegitimate Tour Operators

or are you just bored and want to see if you can screw with other people's livelihood? I'm not a tour operator so I don't care but I think it's interesting enough to note here that you point this out and also exactly who to call should someone have a concern.

So anyway, continue the headhunt.

hah, well played, I was thinking the exact same thing.

I have not named tours, if you feel that tours should remain compliant to transportation laws, and you have evidence suggesting otherwise, I have simply provided you the means to report it. No different than any other copyright violation thread, except those people usually name the offenders. I see no fault reminding some tours that they may be breaking the law (I don't know maybe they're stickers fell off), and that you should fix these errors (especially if your livelihood depends on it). These operators hurt those trying to provide tours legally, they might be skimping on their required maintenance, using drivers with bad records without knowing (how would you know if you never asked for the required records), using drivers with out medical examinations, they may have had accidents go unreported, and they may not be maintaining the required amount of insurance. That is the purpose of these regulations, if you find a fault with them, ask your government to change them.

I honestly don't see what business it is of yours? But it sure appears you're trying to be the "Storm Chaser Tour Police" with this thread.
I do have to laugh that the thread on the other side was locked. Just a quick observation.
From the FMCA:

(f) Exceptions. Unless otherwise specifically provided, the rules in this subchapter do not apply to—
(6) The operation of commercial motor vehicles designed or used to transport between 9 and 15 passengers (including the driver), not for direct compensation, provided the vehicle does not otherwise meet the definition of a commercial motor vehicle except for the texting provisions of §§391.15(e) and 392.80, and except that motor carriers operating such vehicles are required to comply with §§390.15, 390.19, and 390.21(a) and (b)(2).
The definition of "direct compensation" is:

Direct compensation means payment made to the motor carrier by the passengers or a person acting on behalf of the passengers for the transportation services provided, and not included in a total package charge or other assessment for highway transportation services.
At first reading through the thread Robert had me pretty convinced, but I was skeptical that the FHWA would ever want to come down on Massachusetts church vans less than 16 passengers taking kids to camp in New Hampshire. That's not much at all different from what's being discussed here.

Pretty clearly (to this non-lawyer at least) stormchase tours don't meet the definition of direct compensation. The sections that do apply relate to accident reporting, hazardous material and intermodal shipping, and some convoluted language suggesting that "motor carrier" rules apply after all. The Final Rule published on Feb. 1, 2010, refers repeatedly to "direct compensation", i.e.

Effect of the Final Rule

The FMCSA amends the FMCSRs to require that motor carriers operating CMVs designed or used to transport between 9 and 15 passengers (including the driver) in interstate commerce for direct compensation comply with the regulations contained in 49 CFR parts 390, 391, 392, 393, 395 and 396, regardless of the distance traveled.
It's not IMO the clear case I thought at first, and I'd not be quick to rat on chase tours.
Even if I'm wrong on the direct compensation (at the moment I still believe the customer is paying for the transportation, i.e. we're not providing storm spotting), there should still be a usdot number on that vehicle (the business in the photo does not come up on a usdot search either):
Again great discussion!
Last edited by a moderator:
I certainly see the point, but there seems to be a somewhat circular argument between the law and the FMCA's interpretation of the law. As I understand it a [private]motor carrier is a business entity that transports people for compensation in a CMV. With respect to garden-variety 9-15 passenger vans, they become CMVs when and if a motor carrier uses them. This is one of those intent and scope questions that the courts would settle.

If I were a lawyer, I'd argue that a storm tour operator isn't a motor carrier by the intent of the law. I'd cite the FMCA rule-making that really emphasizes the distinction between direct and non-direct compensation. I'd also find and bring up some examples, and here is one....

Many years ago a chorus I was in invited a Hungarian chorus to join us for a tour of the southwest. The chorus was (and is) a 401(c)3 corporation with touring as one of its purposes. We rented several vans and took turns driving the vans on tour. As with storm tours, I'd contend that the chorus is not a motor carrier because its purpose isn't to move people or goods around for hire; rather, it's to perform music in diverse venues. Van transport is just a necessary means to accomplish the purpose.

I'd argue that, similarly, the purpose of van transport for a storm tour isn't to move people or goods for hire; rather, it's to allow artistic photography in diverse and unpredictable venues. I'd contend that the FMCA rules in such situations are overly restrictive, not the intent of the law, and violate the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the US Constitution, which guarantees freedom of movement between states as a fundamental right.
I can see both sides, but it seems that if the semantic technicalities were allowed, then cabs/limos/buses could simply offer things like onboard psychotherapy sessions, training courses, movies or other services to bid themselves as something other than primarily transportation. The core reason for the laws is to ensure that the safety considerations are in place for the vehicle that regularly carries passengers. It seems then that technicalities would render the law useless by allowing people to define their own purposes for what they operate.

All that said, the unmarked/non-compliant operator probably doesn't need to worry much about being busted for running without a DOT number - it's not something the Feds will waste resources on. Therefore I don't think it's in anyone's interest to report fellow chasers. The real concern for an operator is whether their insurance policy will cover all of the guests in the event of an accident. I suppose the real test of legitimacy is ultimately up to the insurance company when a multimillion dollar claim is made after a serious accident. If they decide the operation should have been fully-compliant commercial passenger-for-hire and insured as such (five figure premiums annually), then that's going to be a lifelong problem for that unfortunate operator. Lots of examples of how $2000 cameras used occasionally for chasing have been denied coverage on personal homeowner's policies - you have to have the right coverage for the application, or there in reality is no coverage.

Above all though, 15-passenger vans have been known to be particularly unsafe, so much so that even churches are beginning to run into problems getting insurance coverage for them. (Google around for info on that, here's one link)
Throughout the many years that I've been chasing, I have witnessed that there will occasionally be people who seem to think that there is actually some kind of entity as a "chasing community
In reality, there IS NO chasing community.

Joel, thank you for putting in words what many of us have been trying to say for the past 15-20 years!