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December 26, 2017 6:15 PM, EST
FMCSA Grants Agriculture and Livestock Haulers ELD Waiver
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Federal trucking regulators have granted a 90-day waiver to agricultural commodities and livestock haulers from installing electronic logging devices in their trucks, and issued a separate clarification on potential miles that are exempt from hours-of-service requirements for agriculture haulers.

In a pair of announcements, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said it is granting the limited ELD waiver in response to a request by the National Pork Producers Council on behalf of eight organizations that represent transporters of livestock and other agricultural commodities.

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The ELD waiver for agriculture and livestock haulers, published in the Federal Register on Dec. 20, will be in effect through March 18.

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FMCSA said the pork council argued that the impact of the ELD requirement on its members exposed “incompatibility” among unique aspects of the industry that were causing disruption and endangering the health and welfare of animals transported.

“The agency has determined that the waiver is in the public interest and would likely achieve a level of safety that is equivalent to, or greater than, the level that would be achieved absent such exemption, based on the terms and conditions imposed,” FMCSA said.

FMCSA said the waiver also will provide it time to consider certain exemption applications from segments of the agricultural industry concerning the use of ELDs to document drivers’ hours of service and clarify applicability of the requirements.

The ELD requirement went into effect Dec. 18. Commercial vehicle inspectors have said they will issue citations for violations, but will not place carriers without ELDs out of service until April 1.

Motor carriers operating under the 90-day agricultural waiver must have a “satisfactory” safety rating from FMCSA or be unrated, the agency said. They also must carry a copy of the Federal Register ELD waiver notification and present it to motor carrier safety enforcement officials upon request.

Regulators said in a separate “clarification” guidance document that various stakeholders and enforcement officials in different states have expressed inconsistent understandings of certain exceptions from hours-of-service requirements for carriers hauling agricultural commodities when operating on an exemption.

“There have been gray areas for the past couple of years,” said Jon Samson, executive director of American Trucking Associations’ Agricultural & Food Transporters Conference. “And so they’re looking for a handful of clarifications.”

Samson said the clarifications would “provide a significant amount of exempt miles that agriculture can drive.”

The new proposed agency guidance clarified the exception with regard to drivers operating unladen vehicles traveling either to pick up an agricultural commodity or returning from a delivery point, and for drivers engaged in trips beyond 150 air-miles from the source of the agricultural commodity.

FMCSA said it is seeking comment on whether grain elevators and/or livestock sale barns should be considered a “source” of agricultural commodities, and how the exception should apply when agricultural commodities are loaded at multiple sources during a trip.

On the 150-mile rule, the agency said it would interpret the exception as available to a driver transporting agricultural commodities for a distance up to 150 air-miles from the source, regardless of the distance between the source and final destination or place of delivery.

Once a driver crosses the 150 air-mile point, however, the driver would be subject to the hours-of-service rules for the remainder of the trip, FMCSA said.

As to the unladen rule, the agency said the agricultural commodity exception could mistakenly be read as applicable only during the period in which the commodity is being transported, and not extended to movements of an unladen vehicle either heading to pick up a load or returning after a delivery.

“However, the agency does not consider that view as consistent with legislative intent of providing round-trip relief to farmers, and has therefore informally advised stakeholders that both legs of a trip are covered,” FMCSA said.