Senate addresses ELD exemptions, safety organizations sound off

  (Photo: Shutterstock)

(Photo: Shutterstock)

The Senate Committee on Appropriations addressed the potential for hot button ELD exemptions in the report language of its fiscal year 2019 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies (THUD) bill, but the issue was not tackled in the bill itself.

“Report language” refers to wording used in the Committee’s official report explaining and expounding on the bill. The report is sent to the full Senate along with the bill for consideration.

In this case, the Senate included report language encouraging the Department of Transportation to consider the issue of ELD rules for livestock haulers further.

“The Committee appreciates the Department’s efforts in issuing guidance to clarify an exemption from the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate related to a 150 air-mile radius exemption for agricultural commodities,” the report reads. “To address further concerns raised by drivers of certain commodities, including cattle haulers, the Committee directs the Department to consult with stakeholders, the Department of Agriculture, and the House and Senate authorizing committees on legislative solutions for drivers with unique working conditions. The Department should take into consideration the unique challenges associated with transporting live animals and agricultural commodities as well as ensuring roadway safety.”

The Committee also pointed out that the House Committee on Appropriations took a more direct approach to the matter, reporting a version of the bill that prohibits funds from being used to to enforce an ELD for livestock or insect haulers.  

While the House bill took a more aggressive approach when addressing exemptions, the Senate’s version of the bill was void of political riders altogether.

The issue will likely be ironed out in a conference committee between the House and the Senate, where it could become a negotiating tool.

As it stands right now, livestock and insect haulers will be required to start using ELDs to track their hours of service beginning Oct. 1.

Agricultural haulers will still be exempt from ELD laws when traveling within a 150 air mile radius of their loading point. Once drivers has exited that zone, they will be required to turn on their ELDs and prohibited from driving more than 11 hours at one time.

Hauling living organisms are quite different than hauling things that are manufactured or processed. Animals must be kept safe from exposure and environmental conditions.

One of the most fragile cargoes that transverses our highways are the honey bee. Over 90% of honey bees travel by truck at some point in their life, used for industrial farming to pollinate food-stocks. The honey bee is critical to the agricultural industry, but more importantly, the honey bee's ability to reach farms across the U.S. is dependent upon the trucking industry. 

Steps toward ELD exemptions

Senators like John Hoeven (R-North Dakota) and Steve Daines (R-Montana) hope to see livestock and insect haulers granted ELD exemptions beyond a 150 air mile radius.

“I spent the last week up in Northeastern Montana from places like Malta to Plentywood to travel around and have quiet conversations with our ranchers, our farmers. This is one of their top issues,” Daines said when the Committee met to markup the bill Thursday. “Under current constraints, getting livestock from Montana to locations as far away as Nebraska is nearly impossible to do. I think we can find the right balance here, keeping safety as our highest priority while also making sure we can get out cows to market.”

Both Hoeven and Daines cosponsor the bipartisan Transporting Livestock Across America Safely Act, which was introduced to the Senate on May 23 and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

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“It’s a very important issue, particularly in regards to truckers who haul livestock, and I think everybody can understand and appreciate, when you’re hauling livestock, you have to accommodate those live animals and flexibility is required,” Hoeven said. “We’re not completely done, but this is another step in the right direction. We need to get to a long-term permanent solution.”

The Transporting Livestock Across America Safely Act could provide that solution.

The legislation, as introduced, would increase the exemption for livestock and insect haulers from a 150 air mile radius to a 300 air mile radius. It would also allow drivers to continue driving, regardless of HOS, if they come within 150 air miles of their delivery point.

The case against exemptions

While there is passionate support for increased exemptions, there is also strong opposition from various road safety and animal welfare groups.

A release warning about the potential negative impact of ELD exemptions circulated the day before the Committee was set to markup the THUD bill.

Several organizations were named on the release including: Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety; International Brotherhood of Teamsters; The Humane Society Legislative Fund; Animal Equality; American Public Health Association; Truck Safety Coalition; Consumer Federation of America; SMART Transportation Union; Parents Against Tired Truckers; Road Safe America; Center for Auto Safety; National Consumers League; Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways; Society for Advancement of Violence and Injury Research; Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety and KidsAndCars.org.

“ELDs simply provide an objective record of a driver’s on-duty time to ensure compliance with existing HOS rules. These efforts are nothing more than a brazen attempt to allow certain drivers the ability to circumvent and disobey established rules of the road,” the release stated. “ELDs will help to reduce truck driver fatigue and advance safety for everyone on our roads and highways. Implementation of ELDs should not be stalled even longer and they absolutely should not be ‘turned off’ for any period of driving time.”

The release emphasized that ELD exemptions pose a threat to driver safety, animal welfare and all drivers on the road.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety President Cathy Chase said she hopes to see no exemptions passed, as tired truck driving is already a widespread problem.

“It’s report language. It’s not in the bill, so we're glad about that," she said. "What we are concerned about are special interests knocking on the door of congress saying, 'We want an exemption.’”

Cathy noted that HOS rules haven’t changed, so ELD exemption requests demonstrate the likelihood that certain segments of the industry were not following HOS rules before the ELD requirement.

Truckload Carriers Association Vice President of Government Affairs David Heller agrees that exemptions are not the answer.

“Multiple exemption requests have only demonstrated that our industry truly has problems regarding compliance with the Hours of Service regulations, however exempting parts of the industry from complying with rules and regulations is not the answer,” Heller said. “TCA supports an industry-wide adoption of the Electronic Logging Mandate and looks forward to moving the needle on issues that have negatively affected our industry for years.  Hours of Service, detention time and truck parking problems are all issues that the truckload community continually encounters and by using the data generated by compliant ELDs, we can engage in sensible, thought-provoking discussions that aid in making our industry more compliant and safer for everyone.”

As of today, the future of ELD exemptions for livestock and insect haulers has not been carved in stone.

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