The federal Hours of Service (HOS) regulations apply to the vastly different ways trucks and buses are used in commerce. Many HOS exceptions have been carved out to accommodate the specific nuances of one commercial use or another, with the continuing intent of protecting highway safety. Nowhere is this more evident than in the HOS exceptions applied to the transportation of agricultural commodities and livestock. Common sense would dictate that, unlike a shipment from a manufacturer, the timing, volume and urgency of moving agricultural commodities is often dictated by Mother Nature; and unlike normal freight in a semitrailer, livestock are akin to passengers, whose health and condition during transit is paramount.

Agricultural HOS exceptions have been the subject of the last three federal highway bills, most recently the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) in 2012. As a result, the transportation of “agricultural commodities” and “farm supplies for agricultural purposes” are exempt from HOS within a 150 air-mile radius of the source of the commodities or distribution point for farm supplies. The terms “agricultural commodities” and “farm supplies for agricultural purposes” are now defined at 49 CFR 395.2. Livestock and insects are included under the “agricultural commodities” definition.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) just released new guidance on the application of the HOS exception for agricultural commodities and livestock. (The guidance does not discuss the parallel exception for “farm supplies for agricultural purposes,” as FMCSA said few questions have arisen in that area.) FMCSA clarified these four points for the agricultural commodity exception:

1) Unladen vehicles. The agricultural commodity exception applies to drivers of unladen commercial motor vehicles (CMVs), so that an entire round trip is covered, as long as the trip does not involve transporting any non-exempt commodities.

2) Travel beyond 150 miles. The agricultural commodity exception applies to transportation during the initial 150 air-mile radius from the source of the agricultural commodity, even if the trip then extends beyond 150 miles. Should the driver exceed the 150 air-mile radius, he is at that point subject to standard HOS rules and must log his time. The exception again applies once the driver re-enters the 150 air-mile radius of the first point of loading of the original commodity on a return trip (which, by the first clarification, may be while unladen).

3) The “source” of an agricultural commodity. The “source” of an agricultural commodity can be more than a farm or ranch. It can be a location of commodity storage (e.g., a grain elevator) or livestock handling (e.g., a sales barn), so long as the commodity retains its original form and is not significantly altered by processing or packaging.

4) Multiple stops en route to final destination. When a driver makes multiple pick-ups of agricultural commodities en route to a final destination, the 150 air-mile radius is measured from the first point of loading. A new 150 air-mile radius can be established only after the CMV is completely unloaded of agricultural commodities picked up throughout that trip. The agricultural commodity exception also ends at any point non-exempt commodities are loaded on the CMV.

The full FMCSA guidance on agricultural commodities and livestock can be found at https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/sites/fmcsa.dot.gov/files/docs/regulations/404431/agricultural-commodity-transportation-guidance.pdf

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