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Federal Regulators Pull Back Proposal to Require CDLs for Farmers

September 2nd, 2011

Melissa O’Rourke, ISU Extension Farm & Agribusiness Management Specialist

Farm tractors and other implements move down gravel roads, county blacktops and highways all across Iowa, traveling from field to field.  This necessary movement is heightened during planting, haying and harvesting seasons.

For years, the federal agency charged with monitoring and regulating commercial vehicle safety has allowed state governments to waive commercial drives license (CDL) requirements for farmers hauling crops or driving farm equipment on public roads.  Earlier this year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) was poised to eliminate this exception.

Under the proposed change, FMCSA suggested that all crop shipments be considered part of interstate commerce – even, for example, when farmers were making short hauls to local grain elevators and not crossing state lines.  This new designation would make CDLs a necessity for anyone operating a farm implement or hauling grain on a public road.  CDLs would have been required for livestock hauled in trailers as small as 16 feet in length.  Producers who operated tractors, combines and pickup trucks hauling trailers would all be required to obtain CDLs along with medical cards and maintain log books as if they were long-haul truckers.In many states, young drivers – who may be family farm members assisting in production operations – would be ineligible for CDL license, and therefore excluded from participation in the farm operation.

The FMSCA initially intended to allow 30 days for public comment before implanting the new rules.  Fortunately, farmers, ranchers and related industry groups contacted federal legislators with their concerns.  These contacts  resulted in 18 US senators requesting that FMSCA allow more time for public comment – through August 1, 2011.

FMSCA received over 1700 comments from farmers and representative groups.  FMSCA heard a wide range of protests from concerned individuals and groups.  It appears to some that the comments received by FMSCA served to inform the agency of the realities of farm operations.   

 On August 10, 2011, FMSCA issued regulatory guidance, essentially backing off the proposed new rules.  At least for the present time, CDLs will not be required of farm operators moving tractors, combines, and trucks pulling implements and livestock trailers.  The responsiveness of ag producers and representative groups yielded a positive result.  Continued watchfulness on this topic is warranted.

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