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State Exemption from Federal Truck Standards

State Exemption from Federal Commercial Truck Standards

In late February, Pennsylvania approved proposed changes to Pennsylvania’s regulations governing the intrastate operation of “commercial motor vehicles” (vehicles with a gross weight or weight rating greater than 17,000 pounds) and drivers.  The revised regulations, which are expected to take effect on or before March 31, will repeal long-standing, common-sense exemptions provided to farmers in operation of agricultural vehicles around the farm.  Instead, the new regulations will fully apply the regulatory provisions of the federal motor carrier safety regulations for interstate commercial trucking companies to all intrastate operation of vehicles meeting the weight threshold, including farmers’ use of vehicles on local roads.

The main reason for the new regulations is a 2007 audit performed on Pennsylvania’s intrastate regulations by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which found the farm exemptions and other provisions of the current intrastate regulations to be “deficient.”  FMCSA has threatened to directly withhold $3.1 million in federal funds used for vehicle safety enforcement if Pennsylvania’s regulations are not changed to mirror the federal regulations.  An additional $22 million in federal monies could be lost from the effects of the direct loss of federal funds on quality of enforcement.

The federal regulations impose numerous requirements on interstate commercial trucking companies and drivers relative to the operation of regulated vehicles, including minimum age requirements for operating vehicles (18 years); requirements for drivers to take periodic physical examinations and obtain medical certification cards; “hours of service” requirements that impose restrictions in driver work time and minimum period of driver break time and requirements for paperwork and recordkeeping that trucking companies and possibly drivers would need to keep; and requirements for daily inspections and written inspection reports of regulated vehicles by each driver using the vehicle in the course of the day with requirements for immediate response and written certification to defects noted in the written reports by the company.

All of these requirements could potentially apply under the new regulations to farmers’ use of trucks and truck-trailer combinations around the farm in the performance of normal and basic farm tasks.  While the federal regulations do provide several limited and qualified “exemptions” from driver requirements, the exemptions are not easy to understand or apply to specific situations.  Which, if any, exemptions apply to a driver can be different each time a farm truck is used.

Imposing the additional burden upon farmers and farm drivers to analyze what regulatory standards apply and what do not for each use of farm vehicles around the farm and then comply with the standards that apply makes little common sense.  And the history of agricultural transportation in the Commonwealth does not support any need for additional requirements to be imposed upon farmers or farm vehicle drivers.

The federal regulations give states the opportunity to provide a waiver from the federal regulations’ vehicle and driver standards to intrastate operation of vehicles 26,000 pounds or less.  Senator John Rafferty is expected to introduce legislation to provide the maximum exemption to farm vehicles and drivers allowed by the federal government.  While this legislation will not relieve farmers of the burdens to be imposed under the new regulations in many situations, establishment of the 26,000 pound line of full exemption from regulation, rather than a line 17,000 pounds, will be helpful to farm families.

Legislation to fully exempt farm vehicles of 26,000 pounds and less and their drivers from the federal commercial trucking standards to be imposed under Pennsylvania’s  revised intrastate motor carrier safety regulations was passed and signed into law.  Act 81 of 2010



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