FMCSA’s new guidance for ag haulers, personal conveyance promotes flexibility

May 31, 2018

Greg Grisolano

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The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s latest guidance on hours-of-service exemptions for agricultural transportation and personal conveyance signal additional flexibility for drivers.

In a conference call with industry media on Thursday, FMCSA’s Deputy Administrator Cathy Gautreaux and Director of Enforcement and Compliance Joe DeLorenzo discussed new guidance the agency is issuing to carriers and law enforcement. The guidance is effective immediately and is expected to be published in an upcoming issue of the Federal Register.

For months the agency has sought input from drivers, carriers and other stakeholders in updating its hours-of-service exemption for haulers of agricultural commodities with respect to the 150 air-mile exemption. The agency also has issued updated guidance on personal conveyance.

The updated personal conveyance guidance allows truck drivers to use their vehicles to not only get to and from work but to get somewhere safe to rest, regardless of whether or not the vehicle is under load.

If a driver ends up detained at a shipper or receiver and runs out of hours, the new personal conveyance guidance would give that driver the ability to use personal conveyance to move to a safe location.

Other examples of appropriate use of personal conveyance include being asked to move a vehicle by law enforcement when the driver is in a rest break. DeLorenzo said the agency purposefully did not define “safe parking” in the guidance or issue specifics about the length of time or distance a driver could travel in searching for a “reasonable place to park.” He did specifically state that if the nearest rest area had no available parking, drivers should continue down the road and look for the next accommodation.

“If there’s no parking, it’s not a reasonable place for you to get your rest,” DeLorenzo said. “We want drivers to use common sense. It’s still incumbent upon the driver and carrier to make sure they get the necessary rest.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed comments on both proposals as part of the agency’s request for public input earlier this year. Mike Matousek, OOIDA’s director of regulatory affairs, said the Association is evaluating the new guidance issued Thursday.

“We’re still reviewing FMCSA’s newly released guidance on the agricultural commodity hours-of-service exemption and personal conveyance,” Matousek said. “However, after an initial review, truckers that haul defined agricultural commodities should be relatively happy with the updated guidance. Accordingly, we think FMCSA has made some positive changes to what movements are permitted using personal conveyance, many of which we’ve been urging the agency to make for many, many years. But again, we still have a lot of details to comb through.”

The agricultural commodities guidance focuses exclusively on the 150 air-mile exemption to hours of service. The guidance does not expand the definition of agricultural commodity from what is already defined in CFR 395.2 as “any agricultural commodity, nonprocessed food, feed, fiber, or livestock.”

Under the new guidance, the exemption applies to unladen vehicles as well as to those under load if that vehicle is on a trip to a source to pick up a load, or making a return trip following delivery. All of this is contingent on the fact that the sole purpose of the trip is to deliver or pick up agricultural commodities and does not involve any other cargo. OOIDA was one of several groups to file comments in support of this interpretation of the guidance.

The guidance further clarifies that the exemption applies to trips that exceed 150 air-miles from the source. Upon crossing the 150 air-mile point – roughly 176 land miles, per FMCSA’s DeLorenzo – the hours-of-service rules would apply for the duration of the trip to the destination, and would be in effect until the driver returned within the 150 air-mile radius in which the trip began.

When it comes to defining “sources,” the agency once again opted for a broad rather than narrow definition. Under this definition, grain elevators and livestock markets should be considered sources, as should farms, ranches or other intermediate loading and unloading facilities.

“As long as the commodity retains its original form, a place where the commodity is aggregated and stored may be treated as a ‘source’ from which the 150 air-mile radius is measured,” the revised guidance states.

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Greg Grisolano joined Land Line in 2013. He was formerly a reporter for the Joplin Globe. He brings business writing and photography skills to Land Line, and has a passion for finding and telling stories about the people who make up the trucking industry.