The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced that it is has published a final rule clarifying agricultural commodity and livestock definitions in hours-of-service (HOS) regulations. The Agency worked closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on this effort to provide clarity for the nation’s farmers and commercial drivers.
“The agriculture industry is vital to our nation, and this new rule will provide clarity and offer additional flexibility to farmers and commercial drivers, while maintaining the highest level of safety.” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.
Currently, during harvesting and planting seasons as determined by each state, drivers transporting agricultural commodities, including livestock, are exempt from the HOS requirements from the source of the commodities to a location within a 150-air-mile radius from the source. The agricultural commodity rulemaking from FMCSA was prompted by indications that the current definition of these terms may not be understood or enforced consistently when determining whether the HOS exemption applies.
“I applaud Secretary Chao for recognizing these obstacles and working with USDA to come up with common sense definitions for agricultural commodities and livestock that meet both the needs of agricultural haulers and public safety — critical concerns for all of trucking,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
The Agency published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking in July 2019 to solicit feedback from the agriculture community. Based on a careful review of the public comments, FMCSA has published this new rule to clarify the meaning of these existing definitional terms to ensure that the HOS exemptions are utilized as Congress intended.
“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. These improved rules will help farmers move commodities and get food to our grocery stores. We have heard the concerns from our famers and ag haulers and we’ve worked closely with USDA and the industry to provide regulatory clarity and craft this new rule,” said FMCSA Deputy Administrator Wiley Deck.
However, not all agriculture groups were happy with the ruling. United States Cattlemen’s Association Transportation Committee Chairman Steve Hilker said, “For several years, USCA has specifically requested FMCSA provide clear, consistent regulatory definitions for transporters of live animals and/or beef. Both are highly perishable commodities, and the lack of clarity surrounding these definitions has held up numerous drivers over the years facing errant roadside enforcement.
“The interim final rule issued today actually made current HOS regulations stricter, as it excludes frozen foods from current exemptions. There is no way for a driver to prove that a load they are carrying in a refrigerated truck is NOT frozen without risking rejection of the load by breaking the seal and opening the boxed meat.
“USCA’s Transportation Committee will meet in the days ahead to review our formal response to this interim final rule. These definitions and regulatory changes will impact each and every driver hauling boxed beef and trim.”
To read the final rule on agricultural commodity clarifications, click here.