For many agricultural haulers, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s electronic logging device mandate is a challenge. For one, haulers put in long hours during harvest season. Many are transporting food and livestock down backroads, others are on major interstates. Fresh crops and produce don’t adhere to the same predictable schedule as other non-perishable goods. Nor can a trailer of live cattle be sidelined to adhere to hours of service regulations without posing a threat to the animal’s wellbeing. Hence, the industry’s ELD agriculture exemption.
Many questions about the 90-day exemption that now expires in June remain unanswered. For example, how will the mandate apply to agriculture haulers picking up partial loads at multiple locations? Does the 150 air-mile radius exemption begin at the first pick-up? Similarly, if a trucker hauls produce one way and a non-exempt item back over 150 air-miles, is he subject to ELD requirements?
While the ELD hours of service regulation for agricultural commodities continues to be extended in 90-day increments, industry experts would like to see this reprieve permanently adopted. But, there’s no promise.
While there’s still a lot to iron out, what is certain is that even with a continued reprieve, agricultural haulers must consider the following when it comes to the ELD mandate:
- Don’t forget your documentation. Even exempt agriculture haulers will need to prove their identity when questioned. In some states, this is simply an agriculture license plate. In others, the trucker will need to produce documentation on the company’s letterhead to prove exemption. Know the rule of all states on your routes, and provide truckers with the necessary documentation ahead of time.
- Train your truckers. If your business is taking advantage of the exemption, make sure your truckers are knowledgeable about what that means. Educate truckers on the parameters of the exemption, when it expires and why the load they’re hauling is exempt so they can explain it to law enforcement if pulled over.
- Don’t let safety take a back seat. First, the exemption doesn’t apply to motor carriers with conditional or unsatisfactory safety ratings. Secondly, even if your business is exempt from ELD, you’re still required to supervise truckers when it comes to fatigue and vehicle safety. Remember, the exemption only applies to truckers hauling agricultural commodities within the 150 air-miles radius rule. Once the trucker ventures beyond 150 air-miles, the hours of service exemption no longer applies.
- Stay up to date. As the ELD mandate evolves, its exemptions could change. Stay up to date with the latest developments to ensure you’re in compliance. In addition to the federal mandate, there may be additional state ELD agriculture exemptions and regulations. When it doubt, call the state agency responsible for commercial motor vehicle enforcement to learn more about your responsibilities as an agricultural commodity or farm vehicle hauler.
- Consider the benefits of ELD. While agriculture haulers may not be required to use electronic logging devices, it may make DOT compliance and identifying at-risk drivers much easier. Using telematics on trucks takes a lot of the tedious administration out of logging and monitoring hours. If there’s ever a crash, this documentation will be critical. Consider a cost benefit analysis to determine whether your business could benefit from using telematics on its vehicles.
Hope for the best and prepare for potential roadblocks
Keep your eyes on the news and industry updates for a decision. In the meantime, take stock of current liabilities and prepare for any potential ELD agriculture exemption mandate roadblocks should the exemption expire in March.
Expect a four to six week minimum to put an ELD system into place. This includes establishing a contract, equipment shipping and implementing the technology onto your computer/dispatch system. Training and trial implementation periods should follow. Larger and more complex operations may elongate this timeline.