Commercial Motor Vehicle Traffic in Indian Country

As Native American communities grow, commercial traffic is increasing in Indian country. Oil and natural gas drilling, logging, and tourism bring large trucks and buses into Native communities. Many reservations also have school buses transporting children through the community on a daily basis. Special training and high safety standards are required for the drivers that operate these vehicles, to keep communities safe. Despite these higher standards, commercial driving accidents destroy countless lives and cost billions of dollars in damage each year. Accidents caused by commercial drivers are costly, and often fatal. They are also often preventable.

For many years, The National Judicial College has offered CDL/CMV courses that address a number of issues judges face when adjudicating these cases. These courses teach judges about the federal and state regulations that apply to commercial drivers and address common concerns.

However, Tribal judges face very different challenges than state and local judges with regard to jurisdiction, resources, and recognition of commercial driving violations. On this page, you will find a number of additional resources that address some of the specific issues that tribal judges are likely to encounter in adjudicating these cases.

Do Tribal Courts Adjudicate CDL/CMV Cases?

  • Tribal law enforcement waives cases to state or municipal courts (if they have agreements) and will send commercial drivers to those jurisdictions.
  • If the commercial driver’s license class is not indicated on the citation, then a tribal judge might not realize that a defendant is subject to additional regulations under federal law.
  • Whether the tribal court has personal or subject matter jurisdiction over the commercial driver/violation.
    • While some tribes have entire departments dedicated to maintaining safe roads, some tribes do not have a traffic code at all. Where tribal traffic codes exist, they may or may not address commercial violations.
    • A lack of jurisdiction over non-Indians can complicate these cases for courts that only handle traffic in criminal court.

Tribal Judges’ Knowledge and Attitudes Regarding CDL Cases

Current Research

Researchers with The National Judicial College have been hard at work, trying to learn more about if and how CDL/CMV cases are addressed in tribal court. Please sign up for the listserve to receive additional information.