FMCSA begins process of clarifying HOS exceptions for ag haulers

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Update – Tuesday, July 30: The ANPRM has now been published in the Federal Register, and drivers and others can submit comments here for 60 days through Sept. 27.

FMCSA is asking the public to comment in order to assist in determining whether, and if so to what extent, the agency should revise or clarify the definitions of “agricultural commodity” or “livestock” in the hours of service of drivers regulations.

Original story follows:

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will soon begin accepting feedback on what freight is considered agricultural commodities and to what extent haulers of those commodities should receive exemptions from federal hours of service regulations.

In an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) slated to be published in the coming days, FMCSA will solicit input on questions like whether the agency should form a list of exactly what products are considered ag commodities (and therefore covered by HOS  exemptions), what animals are considered livestock and what roadblocks or financial liabilities hours of service regs cause ag and livestock haulers.

The agency will accept feedback on these questions, which you can read in full in the ANPRM at this link, for 60 days, beginning when the notice is published in the Federal Register.  Comments can be filed at regulations.gov under Docket No. FMCSA-2018-0348.

FMCSA says the potential rulemaking is intended to add clarity to existing exemptions and potential new exemptions, as well as create uniformity in enforcement of those exemptions. The agency currently relies on state-defined harvest and planting seasons for the existing 150-air-mile radius exemption afforded to ag commodities haulers, but there are “indications that the current definition of these  terms may not be understood or enforced consistently when  determining whether the HOS exemption applies.”

The 150-air-mile radius exemption allows drivers hauling ag commodities to run without keeping records of duty status within 150 air miles of the commodities’ source. Once they exit that radius, they must begin keeping records of duty status.

Currently, the agency defines ag commodities as “any agricultural commodity, nonprocessed food, feed, fiber, or livestock,” but that definition could change should the agency proceed with the rulemaking process after it solicits feedback with the ANPRM.

The agency’s potential move comes as regulators and lawmakers grapple with timeliness of food deliveries since the implementation of the electronic logging device mandate. FMCSA’s own clarification of just how the 150 air mile radius exception to the hours of service applies for ag haulers was finalized just more than a year ago — as hard enforcement of the ELD mandate began.

Likewise, the issue’s been in front of Congress. Bills in the U.S. House have proposed instituting a special set of hours rules for haulers of livestock and ag commodities, potentially expanding the short-haul air-mile radius to 300 miles. A bill in the Senate introduced last year would have required FMCSA to establish a working group with state and ag industry officials to examine hour, ELD and other regulations as they pertain to the ag- and livestock-hauling sector.

The agency’s pre-rule related to defining ag haulers is separate from, and in addition to, the agency’s looming proposal to overhaul hours of service regulations for the entirety of the industry. That proposal has also been filed to the OMB and is still awaiting approval.

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