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Crossing the border?

Motor carrier regulations vary between the United States and Canada. Ensure compliance in both countries with consulting from NTCI.
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Canadian transportation regulations are unique.

Different requirements may apply depending on the specific province(s) or territories where you travel. In Canada, the provincial/territorial governments have much more control over commercial driver and vehicle operating rules than state governments in the United States. Although there are Canadian federal regulations and standards, they may not always apply depending on where you operate while in Canada.

Are you operating a regulated commercial motor vehicle?

If your commercial vehicle is regulated in your home country, you will likely be regulated while operating that exact vehicle in Canada or the US. However, the definition of a “commercial motor vehicle” differs slightly between the two countries, and that can impact how various regulations apply to you.

Whether you need help maintaining compliance in Canadian jurisdictions or are considering expanding your operations into Canada, our motor carrier veterans have the knowledge you need to make cross-border operations stress-free.

Common cross-border compliance concerns

Hours of Service

Although similar, the federal hours-of-service rules for the two countries have different maximums for elements such as driving time, cycles, and mandatory off-duty resets. Beyond the hours-of-service limits, significant differences exist around Electronic Logging Device (ELD) requirements and exemptions/exceptions such as Personal Conveyance and Agricultural Commodities.

Consultants Tip – An ELD identified on the FMCSA list of registered ELDs does not necessarily mean it is approved for use in Canada.  To be used as an ELD in Canada, a device must be “certified by an accredited certification body”.   Transport Canada will maintain a list of certified ELD’s on their website and the device must appear on this list for use in Canada. The list of certified ELD’s can be found here.

Drug and Alcohol Testing

Canadian drivers operating in the US must comply with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) drug and alcohol testing requirements. Furthermore, there will likely be additional impacts to the motor carrier around requirements for reasonable suspicion training, ensuring compliance with the clearinghouse’s final rule.

Daily Vehicle Inspections and Reports

Although reciprocity agreements have been signed addressing Daily Vehicle Inspection Report (DVIR) contents (i.e., DVIR form and manner), Canada has very prescriptive requirements around what a commercial driver must inspect as part of their daily vehicle inspection. Beyond still carrying and surrendering a DVIR without any defects in Canada, drivers will need to understand what constitutes a major or minor defect when inspecting their commercial vehicles.

Consultants Tip – In Canada a “Daily Inspection” is valid for 24 hours. There is a reciprocal agreement between Canada and the U.S. that Canadian jurisdictions will accept a post-trip inspection report from U.S. based-plated carriers in accordance with 49 CFR as fully compliant provided the report can be produced on demand of an officer and it is not more than 24 hours old. 

In return, the FMCSA will accept daily inspection reports prepared by Canadian base-plated carriers in accordance with the NSC Standard 13 as fully compliant.


Despite the different names (Hazmat in the US versus TDG in Canada) and terminology (bulk and non-bulk versus large means and small means of containment), the rules around the transportation of regulated materials have primarily been harmonized between the two countries.

This being said, some critical differences exist, particularly around how drivers show they’ve been trained and safety marks for bulk or large means of containment (placards). In addition, a carrier transporting dangerous goods through Canada may be required to do so under a Transport Canada-approved Emergency Response Assistance Plan (ERAP).

Consultants Tip – An ERAP is an Emergency Response Assistance Plan that outlines and describes the actions to be taken to respond to a release or anticipated release of certain higher risk dangerous goods while being transported that endangers, or could endanger, public safety.

It is the responsibility of the person importing, offering for transport, handling or transporting the dangerous goods for which an ERAP is required to establish the ERAP and have it approved by Transport Canada.

Vehicle and Carrier Registration

Almost all states and provinces participate in the International Registration Plan (IRP) and International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) concerning vehicles. Larger commercial vehicles must ensure they are licensed under these agreements to be authorized for travel outside their home state or province.

Federal registration(s) will be required for motor carriers operating in the US, such as obtaining a USDOT number. To operate in Canada will depend on the province of travel. Some provinces will require a provincial motor carrier registration, such as a Commercial Vehicle Operator Registration (CVOR) in Ontario.

Consultants Tip – If you will be operating in Ontario or Quebec, you will be required to register in their provincial motor carrier program (Ontario – CVOR) (Quebec – NIR)

Driver’s Licenses and Medical Standards/Requirements

As a general rule, as long as a driver is operating a vehicle, they are licensed to drive in their home state or province, and a driver can legally operate that exact vehicle anywhere in North America. However, motor carriers and drivers need to be aware of and account for differences around who is considered a commercial driver and how medical standards are addressed.

For example, proof of medical standard compliance is fully integrated into most commercial-class driver’s licenses in Canada. However, there are some specific circumstances where Canadian drivers may need to carry proof of medical fitness while operating a commercial vehicle in the US.

Consultants Tip – Canadian licensed commercial drivers are qualified to operate in the United States if they meet all of the medical requirements to operate in Canada and do not have:

  • hearing impairment
  • history of epilepsy or seizures
  • monocular vision

If you have any of the above noted medical conditions, you are not allowed to operate a commercial vehicle in the United States. A ‘W’ condition code will be placed on your driver’s license.

Alf Brown, NTC Consultant
Alf Brown
NTCI Canada Consultant

Alf Brown is a highly experienced professional with over 32 years in commercial vehicle enforcement and safety, working for the Ontario and Alberta governments. He’s a certified Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) inspector and Canada’s first CVSA Level VI inspector, specializing in radiological shipments. Alf has conducted numerous truck and bus inspections, emphasizing road safety. His expertise includes extensive training and teaching roles, such as CVSA instructor for driver regulations, MTO Moving Violations and Facility Audit Program Instructor, and Enforcement Officer Basic Training Instructor. His dedication to vehicle safety has made him a respected authority in the field.

NTCI makes driving between the US and Canada simpler for motor carriers

Knowing which regulations apply based on where you drive and what you drive isn’t easy. NTCI specializes in helping carriers figure it all out. Our consultants have an average of 20+ years of motor carrier law enforcement experience.
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