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Exemption Doesn’t Mean Exclusion: The ELD Mandate Could Prove Helpful to Ag Haulers

By Steve Bojan, vice president and transportation practice leader of HUB International

There’s good reason the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) electronic logging device (ELD) mandate carries an agriculture exemption.

Drivers put in long hours during harvest seasons and may need to perform multiple duties over the course of a day. Once picked, crops need to get to processing or storage quickly to ensure quality as weather can wreak havoc on them. Livestock cannot be left in a sitting trailer during extreme cold or heat without posing a threat to the animal’s wellbeing. Additionally, there is an increased focus on food safety in the supply chain, which is predicated on products being moved as quickly as possible to the next stage in the process.  

The recent clarification on May 31, 2018, that the 150-air mile radius exemption will remain in effect and can be from the source of non-processed agricultural products such as a farm, silo, or livestock facility provides additional flexibility. In this same directive, the FMCSA also indicated that additional changes to hours of service regulations may soon be enacted to meet the continuing challenges that truckers face.

Whether your fleet is subject to the mandate or not, using ELD technologies could help ag haulers comply with hours of service regulations, improve fleet safety, and reduce operating expenses by tracking idling and speeding. Consider the following five lessons that we have learned from fleets that are using electronic logging devices:

  1. Consider the benefits of ELD. While many agriculture haulers are not required to use electronic logging devices, doing so will make DOT compliance and identifying at-risk drivers much easier. Using telematics on trucks takes the tedious administration out of logging for drivers and monitoring hours from the home office. This improved documentation is critical when involved in a severe crash or if your organization is audited. Telematics are a great tool to identify unsafe driving practices and drivers that may be doing things that are outside of the scope of their work, like speeding, hard braking, and route adherence. Conduct a cost benefit analysis to determine whether your business could benefit from using telematics on its vehicles. 
  2. Don’t forget about driver safety. Even if your business is exempt from hours of service regulations, you’re still required to supervise drivers when it comes to fatigue and vehicle safety (fatigue is a leading cause of commercial vehicle crashes). Remember, the exemption only applies to truckers hauling agricultural commodities within the 150 air-mile radius rule. Once the trucker ventures beyond 150 air-miles, the hours of service exemption no longer applies and drivers will need to follow the hours of service regulations. 
  3. Documentation is important for all. Even exempt agriculture drivers must be prepared to prove their identity if questioned by law enforcement. This could be as simple as an agriculture license plate. Other times, the trucker will need to produce documentation on the company’s letterhead explaining why your organization is exempt. It is important to take into consideration state regulations and practices that may come into play on your drivers’ routes. Provide your drivers with information about applicable regulations and the necessary documentation to keep in their vehicles.
  4. Understand the exemption. If your business is taking advantage of the exemption, make sure your drivers understand the regulations. Train your 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 should they be pulled over. 
  5. Exemptions can change. As the ELD mandate evolves, there’s a good chance its exemptions and associated regulations will 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. Contact the state agency responsible for commercial motor vehicle enforcement to learn more about your responsibilities as an agricultural commodity or farm vehicle hauler. 

Implementing any new technology is challenging. It is critical that drivers understand why the change is being made and how it can benefit their work. Plan on an implementation period of four to six weeks to successfully transition a fleet to fully use ELDs. This includes establishing a contract with a technology provider, equipment shipping/installation, and implementing the technology onto your computer/dispatch system. Training and trial implementation periods should follow. Be prepared: Larger and more complex operations could elongate this timeline.

Transporting Livestock Across America Safely Act

The Transporting Livestock Across America Safely Act (LAASA) is proposed legislation that would increase the air mile radius exemption from 150 air miles to 300 air miles. It would also increase the hours on duty maximum for an agricultural driver from 14 hours to 18 hours and reduce the required rest breaks between driving periods. While the bill is being hailed by agricultural organizations as a way to meet the needs of American food consumers, truck safety advocates have come out against this proposed increase in driver flexibility as a bad precedent for other special interests that rely heavily on truck transport. While LAASA does increase driver productivity and flexibility, it also opens the door to additional driver and equipment fatigue issues that need to be taken into account.

About HUB International

HUB International is one of the largest insurance brokers to both for hire and private commercial trucking fleets in North America. As part of my role as practice leader for transportation within the Risk Services group at HUB, I consult with a number of fleets that haul agricultural commodities on safety, DOT compliance, and fleet best practices. Many of these organizations that have private fleets do not see themselves as trucking companies, but as agricultural producers and processors that have trucks when in fact if they were looked at as a trucker, they would be a mid-sized transportation company and their fleet is one of the largest safety and risk management concerns that they have. Because of their unique status, there are a number of regulatory exemptions, but safety always needs to be a primary concern. Our goal is to leverage aspects of compliance and industry best practices to ensure that our clients are putting the safest fleets that they can out on the road while still meeting the needs of incredibly demanding agricultural commodity scheduling. 

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