Livestock groups ask DOT for 15-hour driving days

Livestock groups have requested a 5-year exemption from current hours-of-service rules, allowing drivers to drive up to 15 hours in a day and work 16 hours. ( Photo: Shutterstock )

Livestock groups have requested a 5-year exemption from current hours-of-service rules, allowing drivers to drive up to 15 hours in a day and work 16 hours. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Groups representing livestock, bee and fish haulers in the nation have asked the Department of Transportation to extend their available driving time up to 15 hours a day, up from the current federally regulated 11 hours. The groups also want DOT to allow 16-hour on-duty periods following a 10-hour consecutive rest period.

“We are concerned that the 11- and 14-hour rules were not drafted with livestock haulers in mind and thus do not accommodate the unique character of their loads and nature of their trips,” the organizations wrote. The current requirements “place the well-being of livestock at risk during transport and impose significant burdens on livestock haulers, particularly in rural communities across the country.”

The request, if approved, would apply for 5 years.

The groups cited strong safety records as the reason for their petition, sent yesterday to FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez. The petition noted crash data from 2013-2015 that it said showed livestock haulers accounted for 6.6% of all commercial drivers but less than 1% of all crashes involving large trucks during that time period.

They also said that any livestock carrier wishing to operate under the new rule would be required to complete a “pre-trip planning and increased fatigue-management training” program.

The petition was signed by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, Livestock Marketing Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, American Beekeeping Federation, American Honey Producers Association, and the National Aquaculture Association.

Among the concerns of livestock haulers is the restrictions current hours-of-service (HOS) regulations place on drivers trying to move living animals that have their own needs.

“When livestock and other live animals are transported, it’s important to get them to their destination safely and without delay or disruption,” Zippy Duvall, American Farm Bureau Federation president said in a statement. “Safety for the driver and others on the road is a priority. That is why we are petitioning DOT to adopt modern fatigue-management practices that provide the same or greater level of safety while avoiding unintended and unnecessary stress on the animals entrusted to our care.”

The petition states that current HOS regulations do not consider modern fatigue management research, and points to Australia as an example, noting that the country’s rules for livestock haulers are focused on “safety outcomes and not prescriptive limits.”

“The Australian scheme reflects a shift to regulations aimed at ensuring certain outcomes; in this case, those outcomes are effective management of driver fatigue and safe driving,” the petition states. “This performance-focused safety oversight approach accords with U.S. DOT’s own recent public statements on how it will oversee transportation safety in several critical areas.”

The petition goes on to say that FMCSA has been granted this authority to adjust HOS regulations for agricultural commodities because of their “unique operational characteristics,” pointing to the 150-air-mile exemption that currently exists. Accordingly, the 15/16-hour regulations would not go into effect until a driver exited the current 150-air-mile radius.

“This approach is wholly consistent with FMCSA’s guidance holding that the HOS regulations do not apply to transportation of agricultural commodities within the 150 air-mile radius and ‘therefore, work and driving hours are not limited’ within that 150 air-mile range,” the petition states.

The groups argue that this change would only affect approximately 112,000 drivers – or about 2.8% of the total CDL driver population. Further, it estimates that only about 25% to 30% of current livestock hauls would need this additional time. These runs might include bee haulers or cattle haulers.

Bee haulers have some of the more restrictive requirements in moving in the industry, with runs moving bee populations across the country from California to northern climates such as North Dakota and southern locations such as Florida.

Cattle can’t easily be unloaded in many locations, either, making longer runs necessary.

“A full understanding of the nature and length of livestock hauling trips explains why the requested exemption is necessary and appropriate,” the petition states. “These trips are dictated by immutable factors like climate and weather, or by long-established and highly interdependent livestock production chains that have been in place for generations.”

FMCSA has previously issued a one-year exemption from the 30-minute rest break for the livestock industry, citing the industry’s safety record as one reason.