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4 ways the FMCSA agricultural exemptions put people in danger

Written by Steve Gursten Posted August 22nd, 2013

The FMCSA recently expanded its agricultural exemptions to include “covered farm vehicles” operated within 150 miles of a farm distribution point

tractor-covered farm vehicle

As truck accident attorneys,  I’ve questioned from time to time (including in the pages of this legal blog) many of the regulatory decisions that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) makes.  Sometimes I question changes in the law, or why a dangerous truck driver was not removed from the road sooner, or even why some bad trucking or bus companies were even operating in the first place.

But, I think the FMCSA’s expansion of the agricultural exemptions for truck drivers tops all of that.

Here are 4 reasons we believe these new agricultural exemptions for truck drivers are confounding.

1. Covered farm vehicles do not have Hours of Service requirements when driving within 150 miles: First, the final rule, which was published earlier this spring, exempts truck drivers hauling “covered farm vehicles” from the hours of service (HOS) rules when they are driving within 150 miles of a farm distribution point.  This rule makes no sense, as we know that driver fatigue is a huge cause of trucking accidents, and that many of these drivers will be over hours or fatigued.   Too many truck drivers as it is are already breaking HOS rules, causing completely preventable truck accidents, and often falsifying logbooks (lie books, as many call them) to conceal it.  Despite this fact, the FMCSA somehow believes that it is appropriate to exempt drivers from the HOS limitations.

But the FMCSA did not stop there.

2. Covered farm vehicles within 150 miles do not require drug tests: Generally, there are stringent alcohol and drug testing requirements for truck drivers. Well, under the expanded exemptions, truck drivers hauling “covered farm vehicles” within the 150 mile radius of the farm distribution point are exempted from these tests. They’re also exempted from the medical requirements that are meant to ensure that the drivers of these heavy vehicles are safe behind the wheel.

3. Truck hauling covered farm vehicles are exempted from repair/maintenance requirements: Additionally, the trucks themselves are exempted from the repair and maintenance requirements imposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations.

It can’t get worse (ie more unsafe), right?  Wrong.

4. Drivers of covered farm vehicles do not need a CDL: The FMCSA went so far as to exempt drivers of “covered farm vehicles” from even possessing a commercial driver’s license (CDL).   That’s right…  you do not even need a CDL to drive an agricultural vehicle within 150 miles of the farm distribution point.

What exactly is a covered farm vehicle?

According the FMCSA, that includes any vehicles which:

  • Are operated by a farm/ranch owner or operator, or an employee or a family member of the farmer or rancher.
  • Transport agricultural commodities, livestock or machinery or supplies to and from a farm or ranch.
  • Are NOT operated for-hire.
  • Are NOT transporting hazardous materials in quantities requiring placarding.

While there may be agricultural exemptions, there are no exemptions on covered farm vehicles causing otherwise very preventable truck accidents.  People are still killed and injured within 150 miles of farm distribution points.

If I had to guess, based upon 20 years of helping the victims of these cases as a truck accident attorney, I would say the statistics that these new exemptions cover are already higher than to the driving population at large. And having seen time and time again the devastation of these truck crashes, I cannot understand how the FMCSA would act so recklessly in expanding these agricultural exemptions.

On a final note – just to illustrate how terrible, dangerous and foolish these exemptions really are, 10 days after passing the final rule, this crash happened in Dallas, TX.  A truck driver was hauling livestock (cows) when he flipped over his truck.  The cows that were lucky enough to survive ran from the truck across the highway causing pandemonium.  Some of the cows even jumped off of the overpass into the water below.  This chaotic scene not only created a very dangerous situation for motorists who had to avoid colliding with cows – but it also forced the highway to be shut down for hours.

Following an investigation, Dallas police suspected that speed played a factor in the truck crash.  Investigators also believed the truck driver was not licensed to drive that particular type of rig, and was impaired by drugs or alcohol.

And, as I said above, the FMCSA has now  exempted truckers like this from drug testing, alcohol testing, or even having a CDL license.

Steven Gursten Photo

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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