The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) and other truck safety groups have warned federal regulators that relaxing hours-of-service (HOS) rules for ag haulers threatens safety by exposing more drivers to fatigue.
In a petition for reconsideration filed in late December with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), CVSA stated that the interim final rule (IFR) issued by the agency in November that attempts to clarify the definitions of “agricultural commodity” “livestock” and “non-processed food” for the purpose of HOS exemptions is not specific enough.
“The changes in the IFR will likely expand the number of motor carriers eligible for the agricultural commodity hours-of-service exemption, allowing more drivers to operate far beyond the hours-of-service limits, exposing them to fatigue,” CVSA stated.
Four safety groups – Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, Parents Against Tired Truckers, and the Truck Safety Coalition – filed joint comments contending that FMCSA’s proposed changes are based on lobbying by carriers transporting animals not included in the current exemption.
“Since the implementation of the electronic logging device (ELD) rule in December 2017, the agency has undertaken several initiatives to abate, roll back and otherwise undermine the requirement by creating or expanding exemptions for drivers from the HOS or ELD rules,” the groups contend. “This IFR is part of this ongoing dangerous effort that weakens public safety at the behest of certain industry interests and is entirely incongruous with the agency’s mission of implementing safety countermeasures that will reduce truck crashes and fatalities.”
Drivers hauling agricultural commodities are exempt from HOS limits on maximum driving and on-duty time during the harvest and planting seasons, which is determined by each state. The HOS exemption applies when the commodity is hauled to a location within a 150 air-mile radius from the source.
The IFR is based on an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking issued last year, in which FMCSA and USDA asserted 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 HOS regulations for agriculture and livestock haulers.
CVSA said that the lack of specificity in the IFR would lead to “confusion and abuse” of the exemption and therefore FMCSA should make the following changes:
- Clarify that a driver does not qualify for this exemption if any part of the cargo in a mixed load does not meet the agricultural commodity definition.
- Provide additional details on the extent to which a raw agricultural product can be altered before being considered processed.
- Require drivers to annotate in their electronic logging devices when they are operating under an exemption as a result of hauling an agricultural commodity or livestock.
Many of those commenting on the IFR supported FMCSA’s changes, which included allowing “horticultural commodity” to be included in the definition of an agricultural commodity.
ScottsMiracle-Gro Co., which owns a fleet of 52 trucks and uses more than 1,100 trucking companies to ship over 200,000 truckloads of soil and mulch products annually, said that including horticultural commodities under the exemption essentially allows the company to add an additional delivery per day during the growing season, saving the company $800,000 in distribution costs.
“This will result in reduced unsold inventory, improved financial performance for carriers and drivers, and ultimately lower prices for farmers, nurseries and consumers,” it said.
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