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In an effort to provide clarity for U.S. farmers and commercial drivers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on July 22 announced it is seeking public comment on revising agricultural commodity or livestock definitions in hours-of-service regulations.
Currently, states determine if drivers transporting agricultural commodities during harvesting and planting seasons, 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, FMCSA said in an advance notice of proposed rulemaking.
“The current regulations impose restrictions upon the agriculture industry that lack flexibility necessary for the unique realities of hauling agriculture commodities,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement.
“FMCSA has worked closely with the agriculture industry and U.S. Department of Agriculture in crafting this advanced notice. We have heard concerns from the industry, and we are acting,” FMCSA Administrator Raymond Martinez said. “We encourage all CMV stakeholders, especially those involved in transporting agricultural commodities and livestock, to provide valuable feedback on how the current definitions impact safety, compliance and enforcement.”
The announcement called the current statutory definition of agricultural commodity “circular and ambiguous” and “susceptible to multiple interpretations.”
The advanced notice of proposed rulemaking addresses the maximum hours of service for drivers transporting agricultural commodities by commercial motor vehicle, FMCSA said.
“More specifically, this ANPRM is based on a statutory exemption from hours-of-service requirement for drivers transporting ‘agricultural commodities’ during planting and harvesting periods, as determined by each state,” the announcement said.
The agency said it is currently preparing for the next step — a proposed rule which will include revisions to certain hours-of-service requirements to provide greater flexibility for drivers, without adversely affecting highway safety. “The advanced rule authored by 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,” FMCSA said.
The agency said it also wants to hear from the industry which animals other than cattle, sheep and swine should be eligible for the HOS exemptions due to risks to health and safety in transit.
FMCSA posed several questions it wanted the industry to answer:
- Does the lack of detail in the current agricultural regulation cause compliance or enforcement problems?
- Should the agency define or otherwise clarify the term “nonprocessed” as applied to the definition of an agricultural commodity?
- Would clarification or definition of terms such as “food, feed, or fiber” be helpful?
- Is the list of animals in the definition of livestock adequate?
- Would the clarification of agricultural commodities result in cost or benefit impacts to commercial drivers and motor carriers?
- Would clarification of the two categories improve highway safety, and if so how?
The agency said it will accept public comment for 60 days after the advance notice is published in the Federal Register, anticipated to occur later this week.