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Transportation law is a broad legal field encompassing federal and state transportation statutes. These laws involve transportation infrastructure and all forms of road, railway, water and air transport.
Transportation law may apply to:
Congress is authorized to regulate interstate commerce under the U.S. Constitution. This means that travel between the states is subject to several federal laws and regulations.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is the umbrella agency for all federal transportation policies and regulations. The DOT's stated goals are to keep the traveling public safe, increase national mobility, and support the national economy through the transportation system. The DOT oversees several agencies that administer federal statutes for various branches of transportation, including:
The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is an independent federal agency that provides certain safety guidelines and investigates mass transit accidents, such as plane and train crashes. The agency works on major investigations throughout the U.S. and abroad. The NTSB wants information from board investigations to improve transportation safety. That’s why NTSB findings of an accident (like fault or probable cause) generally cannot be used as evidence in court.
States have the authority to regulate transportation within their boundaries. They use their respective departments of motor vehicles to regulate everyday driving rules. While all states share basic driving rules, such as driving on the right side of the road, there are other differences like:
Federal transportation laws keep American travelers safe and the transportation system moving. Federal standards in seat belts and air bags help protect drivers and occupants in passenger vehicles. When someone flies from New York to Los Angeles, federal regulations ensure that the plane was properly maintained and that air traffic is safely managed. Federal laws also regulate the safety features of passenger trains. They also dictate the amount of rest time commercial truck drivers are required to take each day. Meanwhile, state laws regulate things like the speeds of private and commercial road traffic, private and commercial vehicle registration and the insurance minimums required for various vehicles.
Transportation law is a wide-ranging field, and there are many types of transportation attorneys. The owner of a commercial interstate trucking fleet may need legal advice from an attorney who has experience in federal regulatory compliance. An automaker may need legal counsel on the handling of a federally mandated vehicle recall. Many attorneys also appear before state departments of motor vehicles in administrative hearings.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified transportation lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local transportation attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.