HOS rules for agricultural haulers need change

While I am sympathetic to the concerns of the agricultural industry, I believe changes to the hours of service rules regarding agricultural haulers are needed.

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance’s (CVSA) director of policy & programs, Steve Keppler, told Fleet Owner’s Sean Kilcarr that CVSA, which is pushing for a change, is only interested in changing the statutory exemption agricultural haulers enjoy to a regulatory exemption, not eliminating the exemption as some fear.

The difference, Keppler said, is a regulatory exemption would allow the policy to be reviewed periodically. “There’s already a regulatory process established for obtaining HOS exemptions and we feel they should use it,” he said. “Our concern is that crashes and out-of-service rates for vehicles and drivers have increased in the agricultural sector over the last four years that this exemption has been in place. That’s the wrong direction [to go] in terms of highway safety.”

The agricultural industry claims the statutory exemption, allowing it to extend HOS rules if the carrier is operating within a 100-mi. radius of its base of operations, is necessary to hold down consumer food prices as the commodities they haul have finite shelf lives. The exemption was put in place in 2005.

“It is critical that agriculture in the U.S. is able to depend on this exemption to move their commodities from farm to fork,” David Schroyer, president of Schroyer Truck & Trailer Sales told Kilcarr.

“The issue is the agricultural industry has a limited time window for harvesting and food processing, as well as the planting and fertilizing of seed – a time window dictated by Mother Nature, not humans,” Schroyer added. “Repealing this exemption will have a devastating impact on agriculture and could result in price increases for food products for consumers.”

The problem is that a recent study by the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center showed that agricultural carriers operating within the 100 mi. radius had a 19% higher crash rating from 2005 through 2007 than similar carriers operating outside that radius.

Is that a statistical anomaly or a trend? Hard to say. But in my view, when safety is at issue, it’s better to err on the side of caution. If the agricultural haulers are indeed safety conscious, then facing a regulatory exemption that is reviewed periodically should not scare them in the least.

The old saying, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about holds true. If safety is an issue, than a periodic review will identify that and maybe lives can be saved.

I’d pay more for that.