The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has worked closely with the USDA to clarify rules and definitions regarding livestock and agricultural commodities in its hours-of-service (HoS) regulations. Most notably, it has issued a 150 air-mile exemption. According to the FMCSA, the agricultural rule making “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.” Here’s a breakdown of the new HoS terms and some elaboration on how the exemption will affect motor carriers.
Defining Terms And Boundaries
An “air-mile” is equivalent to 172.6 miles and is roughly used to account for the shortest distance between two points regardless of the terrain. Essentially, if a driver stays within this radius while transporting certain agricultural commodities, they are exempt from HoS regulations. Drivers do not have to use an ELD because they are not required to keep logs of their hours.
An interview conducted by FleetOwner further clarifies the exemption. Joe DeLorenzo, director of FMCSA’s Office of Compliance and Enforcement, describes which activities the exemption covers and what happens if a truck carrying agricultural commodities travels outside of the 150 air-mile radius. “Any of the time that takes place working within that 150-[air]-mile radius is not counted toward the driver’s hours of service,” he said. “That includes empty miles driven to a pick-up point, it includes loading time, and it includes the time driving with an agricultural commodity within a 150-[air]-mile radius of the source.” This applies to the full round-trip (before and after drop-off).
A truck may arrange multiple stops to pick up agricultural commodities, but under the FMCSA’s rules, those stops do not count as a new source point.
The mid-point of the radius is placed on the map when the commodities are picked up. This point is officially termed the “source.” The driver is then covered under the exemption at any point within the 150 air-mile radius of the initial load in. There can be only one source per trip. A truck may arrange multiple stops to pick up agricultural commodities, but under the FMCSA’s rules, those stops do not count as a new source point. Therefore, drivers will not have to log their hours when making additional loading stops within the 150 air-mile radius of their initial source.
What Happens When Drivers Leave The Radius?
When a driver hauling ag crosses into the 151st air-mile from the original source, HoS rules apply, and the clock starts at zero hours. This can provide a significant extension to the workday. Drivers who re-enter the exemption radius from the original pickup should note that their routes re-enter the timeless zone.
Drivers do not necessarily have to resume the use of their ELD when they re-enter territory subject to HoS regulation.
Here’s where it gets a little confusing. Drivers do not necessarily have to resume the use of their ELD when they re-enter territory subject to HoS regulation. This ELD exemption could apply. A driver can forego the use of an ELD in favor of paper logs if they only need to record hours of service for 8 out of any 30 rolling calendar days. Since this rolling period is cHoSen at the driver’s discretion, a driver could craftily choose which 30-day window to use. The goal would be to choose any 30 days during which they left the exemption radius on fewer than 8 separate days. Using this approach, a driver would not have to obtain an ELD.
The Implications: Some Pros & Cons
It enables ambitious drivers to log more miles.
Since the HoS regulations are meant to limit the maximum number of hours drivers are allowed to be on duty while also mandating the number and length of rest periods, the revision made on June 1, 2020, has raised some safety concerns. Extending the workday to such extremes helps farmers move their commodities and supports grocery stores. It enables ambitious drivers to log more miles. It also effectively rolls-back the safety efforts made by the HoS to protect driver alertness through the use of ELDs in December 2017. Safety groups like The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) have warned federal regulators that their actions make agricultural haulers vulnerable to fatigue. They additionally expressed concern over the ambiguity of what defines an “agricultural commodity” between the FMCSA and the USDA. While the FMCSA cited this as the revision’s primary goal, there are still many practical gray areas.
In order for drivers to remain compliant, CVSA has insisted that the FMCSA should make changes as follows:
- Specify that drivers of mixed load cargo hauls do not meet the definition of an agricultural commodity for transport
- Provide clearly stated guidelines on the extent to which a raw agricultural product can be altered before it has to be claimed as a cargo of processed goods
- Require drivers to still use their ELDs to record hours driven under the exemption as a result of hauling livestock or agricultural commodities
The key to navigating these regulations is to understand exactly how the exemptions work. Especially as the United States begins its produce season, ensuring that these time-sensitive goods reach their destination in a timely manner is critical.