The Trump administration has issued an interim final rule (IFR) aimed at making it easier for agricultural commodity and livestock drivers to comply with conflicting work-rule regulations.
The rule, which goes into effect 15 days after publication in the Federal Register, was issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), part of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), in consultation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“Our nation’s farmers and agriculture haulers will benefit from this clarification of the rules and will be able to deliver their products in a safer and more efficient manner,” said FMCSA Deputy Administrator Wiley Deck. “These improved rules will help farmers move commodities and get food to our grocery stores.”
The IFR — which is open to public comment for 30 days — is based on an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking issued last year, in which FMCSA and USDA acknowledged that the definition of “agricultural commodity” is ambiguous and applied inconsistently between the two agencies. That inconsistency sometimes made it confusing and difficult for drivers looking to take advantage of exemptions provided within the FMCSA’s hours-of-service (HOS) regulations for agriculture and livestock haulers.
Current limits on maximum driving and on-duty time do not apply during the harvest and planting seasons, as determined by each state, to drivers transporting agricultural commodities. The HOS exemption applies when the commodity is hauled to a location within a 150 air-mile radius from the source.
For livestock haulers, the exemption applies because certain animals, such as cattle, sheep and swine, are subject to health risks if exposed to prolonged transit times due to the HOS rules. But carriers had argued that the current definition of “livestock” is incomplete and not sufficiently broad to include, for example, aquatic animals other than live fish and crawfish.
“By clarifying the definitions of ‘agricultural commodity,’ ‘non-processed food,’ and ‘livestock,’ the IFR will create a common understanding between FMCSA, motor carriers, drivers, and enforcement officials,” according to the rule. “While this rule merely clarifies an ambiguous definition without changing any substantive requirements, some regulated entities and enforcement officials may change their behavior in response to this rule.”
FMCSA pointed out in the rule that it does not collect information on the number of drivers currently using the agricultural commodity or livestock exemptions and does not know to what extent state enforcement practices vary because of the ambiguity.
It noted, however, that “drivers who use these exemptions as a result of the clarification provided in this interpretative rule may potentially realize cost savings, and those who no longer use an exemption as a result of this clarification may incur costs.”
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