Last week, thousands of you read CJ’s article.
Shortly after I pushed publish, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued “guidance” for the “non-business”, “non-commercial” horse industry. I certainly don’t think they expected the backlash they received from people who haven’t been previously regulated, and frankly shouldn’t be regulated by a FEDERAL Motor Carrier regulatory agency. Essentially these regulatory arms have become a fourth branch of the government, and they all too often, in my opinion anyway, overstep their bounds. However, this “guidance” doesn’t really do anything for the Ag industry as a whole. Does it help the recreational user by exempting them from having to obtain a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL)? Yes, and no. Their state can still require a CDL based on an outdated, archaic weight threshold that is no longer relevant to today’s world.
The Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate brought to light MANY inconsistencies where regulation of the trucking industry is concerned. Average, non-truck-driving-citizens read the mandate; mass confusion has ensued, and rightly so, since we are NOT in the trucking industry. Suddenly, individuals that don’t drive “trucks” discovered that they should have been keeping log books (which now means an ELD – in some cases) and many should have Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLs) and or DOT numbers –simply based on rules that state, if you drive and pull a trailer, and are a business of any sort, you’re in commerce; hence a commercial driver.
CDL weight thresholds (based on the Gross Vehicle Weight Ratings of combination vehicles) were set in 1986, and at the time they purposely excluded pickups pulling trailers. That is no longer the case. There has been a 60% increase the GVWR of Class III trucks (a one ton) since then. It is time that the legislative branch of our government update this law to reflect the original intent, while removing the Ag Industry from the definition of commercial driver.
At play here are licensing requirements and regulations. Depending on the situation the two are not mutually exclusive. Basically the situation boils down to three issues:
1. The weight threshold that triggers the need for a CDL at a combined gross vehicle weight rating of 26001 lbs, and the fact that a Commercial Motor Vehicle is defined by a GVWR of over 10,001 lbs. These numbers were established in 1986;
2. The outdated, and inapplicable-to-many-western-states, 150 air-mile exemption graciously granted through Map-21, and
3. The seemingly arbitrary need of a federal regulatory agency to turn a tradesman, horse trainer, rancher or farmer into a truck driver simply because they’re driving in a large enough vehicle. And just so you know, that “large enough” vehicle is a one ton pickup or a 15 passenger van as examples. Regardless, if you’re deemed to be a “business” in vehicle that has a GVWR of 10,001, you apparently run the risk of being unsafe and need to be regulated.
Commercial Driver’s Licenses:
The Recreational Clarification exemption from a CDL does help a few competitive equine hobbyists, but it does nothing for them if the state they live in has no CDL exemptions — a state like Kansas, for example. If one were to research the information surrounding a CDL — all the illustrations and learning materials are geared towards Class 7 and 8 trucks, (semis) or buses, with nothing about pickups and trailers to be found, anywhere. Many states exempt the drivers of recreational vehicles, but some states have zero provisions in place for livestock/horse trailers. Many people sit in a gray area which leaves it up to the law enforcement officer on the side of the road as to how he wants to interpret the laws and regulations. The reason the CDL training materials are geared towards big trucks is that, well, they’re the ones that are the original intent of the licensing.
I understand that states need the freedom to do as their residents choose (by deciding on CDL laws themselves), but there is no mention in some state statutes that specifically exempt trailers pulled by pickups – though there is mention of recreational vehicles in some instances in the state statutes. It’s like this subset of the population had been ignored by federal and state lawmakers, as well as Law Enforcement. Originally these individuals were thoughtfully left out of the CDL requirements, and for the past 32 years have been mostly ignored.
For the rodeo industry specifically, students participating in college rodeos that that live in states that require a CDL have a serious issue in that they cannot get an interstate CDL until they’re over 21. Of the 11 regions in college rodeo, none are only intrastate and of the 3600 members of college rodeo, 70% are under the age of 21. Many of these students are on scholarships and rodeoing is helping them get through college.
Today, a one-ton dually pickup (Class 3), makes up 54% of the combined GVWR threshold that triggers the need for a commercial driver’s license.
Map -21 Air Mileage Exemptions and the CDL:
As it stands now, once a farmer, or rancher, or horse trainer, or cabinet-maker, or tradesman of any type, crosses out of their state, and the 150 air-mile Ag exemption is reached, they turn into a full-blown, over the road truck driver. Since a rancher isn’t considered recreational if they’re hauling their bulls to the sale, they’ll have to obtain a CDL if they have a heavy enough pickup and trailer. That requires passing several written tests, passing a driving test, and then requires a DOT medical exam and physical; not everyone can procure a CDL due to medical conditions or even a previous DUI or accident on their record.
Further, the drawbacks that come with that license, are not something that a member of the general, non-professional, driving public who is not paid to haul freight should have to subject themselves to. All vehicles deemed to be “commercial”, (whether large enough to require a CDL or not) once they leave their 150 air mile exemption/state are then required to have a DOT number, vehicle inspection(s), weigh stations or ports of entry inspections, and keep a log book or utilize an ELD (if they travel more than 8 days out of a rolling 30) and they’re tied to the same Hours of Service as an over the road trucker. Some states do offer reciprocity for the Map-21 exemptions listed and some states don’t — which means you can skip the DOT number. This further complicates things. On the days you don’t drive, guess what? You still “get” to log what you did with your day — likely you’re off duty. But how is it fair to ask a rancher, or a horse trainer to keep a log-book or place an Electronic Logging Device in the ranch pickup, simply because a federal regulatory agency has deemed them a “commercial” driver? Who, may I ask, is paying them to drive? Is it Walmart? UPS? FedEx? JB Hunt? Swift? JBS? Cargill?
Going farther, the 150 air-miles offered up through Map-21, more often than not, does not get today’s rancher or farmer to a competitive market to sell their calves, sheep, pigs, or grain, etc. Centralization and modernization have spread the competitive markets apart. Every other grain elevator is often owned by the same cooperative. Some cattle sale barns are more competitive than others. Shouldn’t the rancher or farmer be free to choose what is best for their operation? Why should we burden them with more costly regulations when they are not truck drivers? Why is a regulatory agency, tasked with regulation of the trucking industry, trying to regulate people who do not make their living sitting behind a steering wheel? The aforementioned folks they’re regulating, drive to get to a place they can get paid. You know, like lots of other people in the world. They do not drive for pay.
I’m not sure how Ag Producers get sucked into FMCSA regulations, as they are NOT truly “Motor Carriers”. There is a great deal of confusion surrounding the issues, as Ag Producers who were previously unaffected by the regulations, even though any state DOT enforcement officer you talk to, says that Ag Producers/horse trainers etc, have been illegal for the last umpteen years. I know the FMCSA has only been in existence since 2000, so who, prior to them, made the rules and regulations that govern the trucking industry? Trucking companies pay DOT Compliance Firms to help them stay compliant with all the rules and regulations. Should ranchers and farmers have to do that as well?
Commercial Motor Vehicles:
Unless we redefine what constitutes a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) on a federal level, the states aren’t going to follow suit. They can’t — the weight thresholds for these definitions were defined in the Commercial Motor Vehicle act of 1986 and set by congress. They are tied to Federal Highway Grant Money so a state can’t change them, at least by my understanding. A commercial motor vehicle is any vehicle with a GVWR of over 10,001 lbs and a CDL is required for any combination vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001.
For Ag Producers, and anyone else deemed to be “commercial”, those who are not paid to drive for a living (a professional rodeo competitor -all have a day jobs too, a horse trainer, a part-time, hobby farmer – who may have a day job, but files a schedule F, a rancher or farmer), the regulations that FMCSA are applying to us and burdening our industry with, are cumbersome and make no sense unless someone can come up with a good reason for a rancher to be treated as a truck driver when they leave their state. Regulations don’t necessarily make safer drivers. Experience and people do. As a rule, we all want to get home to our family in one piece. Ranchers want to deliver their livestock in good health, and farmers want their grain to get to the elevator. Professional rodeo competitors want to get their horses to and from the their home to the rodeo as safely as possible.
Basically, these are the questions and observations I have surrounding the current mess that Ag Producers and the horse industry find themselves in. And I for one, would sure like to know how we got here.