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Industry gets what it wants with ELD ag exemption

On June 7, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration published its guidance in the Federal Register clarifying the ag exemption with regard to electronic logging devices, making it officially effective as of today for the next five years.

The exemption for agricultural trucking from the new electronic logging device rules has gone a long way to solving the industry’s concerns. Ken Gilliland, director of transportation for Western Growers Association, noted that a companion guidance concerning the use of a commercial vehicle for personal use and is also advantageous for the business of long-distance hauling. The WGA executive told The Produce News on the morning of June 7 that he was still examining the wording of both documents to make sure there were no hidden issues. “We (the agricultural industry) basically got what we were looking for. Within the guidance, the FMSCA indicates that there may be need for some tweaking but generally it appears that they have covered all the bases.”

The FMSCA issued an exemption for agriculture after the new regulations became effective in December of 2017. In January, a guidance about the exemption was published in the register and in late May a clarification about that exemption was released by FMCSA. The publishing of it in the Federal Register makes it official.

The ag exemption guidance clarifies two main points: one defining what a “source” is as it relates to the initial pickup of an agricultural commodity. The second point clarifies the exemption as it relates to operating a truck within 150 air miles of a source prior to or immediately after picking up a load.

As a practical matter, the clarifications take into account the peculiarities involved in the transportation of agricultural commodities. As a matter of fact, agricultural products are often staged for pickup away from their point of production. And they are not always available from inventory as often the day’s harvest is not yet ready for loading when a truck arrives. The transportation industry, as well as agricultural producers, argued that because of these anomalies, hours of service rules were problematic for truckers hauling ag commodities. Though the rules themselves didn’t change, the mandate to use electronic logging devices frankly prevents the altering of log books, a time-honored practice by many haulers.

The new clarifications allow the pick-up point for the products — be it the field, packing shed or cooler — to be the “source” from which the ag exemption rules originate. While a trucker is within 150 miles of that sources — either going to pick up his load or leaving after having secured it — the hours of service rules are not in effect. When beyond that “exemption zone” the ELD rules governing transporters of all other goods will kick in.

As a practical matter, this means if a trucker is sitting at a shipper’s distribution facility waiting for a load for an extended period, that wait time does not count against his hours of service. And as a practical matter, he gets the additional opportunity of departing the area and heading to the open highway for a couple of hours before the clock starts running on his hours of service limitations.

For haulers of agricultural goods, after picking up a load, the ELD regulation, and thus the hours of service limitations, kick in when the trucker gets beyond 150 air miles from the point of pickup. Likewise, a hauler with an empty trailer going to a facility to pick up a load does not have to be concerned with violating the hours of service rules once within 150 air miles of the facility. When multiple pickups are involved, the 150 mile meter starts after leaving the first facility.

Gilliland said the guidance on the use of the semi-truck for personal conveyance is also important. This guidance covers all drivers not just those hauling agricultural products. Under the hours of service rules, FMCSA has said that a driver who has run out of drive time is allowed to use the commercial vehicle for personal conveyance as the trucker goes to the nearest facility to begin the mandated rest period. Gilliland said this allows truckers with a full load to proceed a reasonable distance to a hotel or truck stop. While they have to account for that time, it is allowed. Previously, he said the rule allowed for personal conveyance but only if the trailer was empty.

With both documents published on June 7, 2018, they will remain in effect until June 7, 2023, unless there is further guidance addressing these situations.