What is Transportation Law?

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  • Written By: Felicia Dye
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 23 February 2020
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Transportation law, sometimes referred to simply as transport law, is a vast area of jurisprudence. Legislation in this category can place limitations and responsibilities on a wide range of entities including commercial vehicle operators, state governments, and private industry. The effects are felt by so many because the laws cover many subject areas, such as vehicular safety, the transport of hazardous materials, and the infrastructure used for vehicular travel.

The words “transportation law” could lead a person to believe that the topic refers solely to driving regulations. Drivers are certainly affected by this area of jurisprudence due to regulations such as licensing requirements, vehicle inspection standards, and road laws. Many other parts of life and commerce are also greatly affected.

Transportation law heavily affects commercial transport, for example. This includes transport for the purpose of shipping and delivery and that which is for the purpose of mass transit. This area of law not only applies to the operators of cars and trucks, therefore, but also to the owners and operators of buses, airplanes, and trains.


In these instances, topics of concern may include capacity, operator training, and passenger and cargo insurance. For example, cargo claims are an area of law where attorneys tend to specialize. How business arrangements are handled when commercially shipped goods are insured, lost, or damaged may be a matter of contractual terms, but it is also generally a matter of legislation. When mass transit is concerned, transportation law often regulates the relationship between passengers and transporters. This can include fares, mandatory safety equipment, and special licensing requirements.

The infrastructure that is used for travel falls under the scope of transportation law. The design and materials used to construct highways, railways, and bridges are often subject to legislation. The standard at which these modes of travel must be maintained is generally a matter of law. Although there are no structures in the sky, the manner in which airplanes fly is heavily regulated. For example, during a period in 2010, many national governments in Europe prohibited any air travel due to threats posed by an ash cloud from a volcano in Iceland.

Transportation law can be established at the local, state, or federal level. The highest agency devoted to such matters in the United States (US) is the US Department of Transportation. Within this agency there are a number of others, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Each subagency has a purpose and it may introduce and oversee transportation law in its field.


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