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Nearing the end of a 90-day extension, truck drivers who haul live animals and crops got another 90-day delay in implementation of a U.S. Department of Transportation rule that mandates truckers use electronic devices to record the amount of time spent on the road.

The announcement came late Tuesday afternoon, less than a week before the March 18 expiration date of the initial extension.

In a news release, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said that without the added extension, compliance would have been "problematic."

Live animals and plants "would have been at risk of perishing before they reached their destination," he said in a statement. "The 90-day extension is critical to give DOT additional time to issue guidance on hours-of-service and other ELD [electronic logging devices] exemptions that are troubling for agriculture haulers."

The Arkansas Cattlemen's Association and Arkansas Farm Bureau, among other groups, had lobbied for more time, echoing Perdue's stance.

Cody Burkham, executive vice president of the Arkansas Cattlemen's Association, said his problem is not with the electronic logging devices, but with the hours-of-service guidelines.

According to the Department of Transportation, commercial truckers are allowed to drive 11 hours a day, or spend 14 hours on the clock. Overtime is not an option. When the time limit is reached, drivers must pull over, and wait 10 hours before getting back on the road. The idea is that required time for sleep will yield fewer crashes.

Burkham said that while the Transportation Department's intentions are good, they are "not practical."

"You can't just pull over a loaded truck full of cattle," he said. "You'll have death and stress. And it's a humane issue for the livestock."

The National Pork Producers Council, among eight other agriculture groups, made the same argument in a petition late last year. They said the hours-of-service rules "endangered" the welfare and safety of animals. That led to the federally approved waiver that took effect Dec. 18.

Proponents of the Transportation Department's mandate say electronic recording of hours is more efficient than paper records and reinforces what the agency's hours-of-service rules were meant to accomplish: Safer driving conditions for truckers and the public at large.

Brad Delco, a transportation analyst with Stephens Inc., said that for as long as he can remember, all trucking operations have been required to abide by hours-of-service rules.

All the electronic logging device does "is keep track of that in an electronic format so it cannot be misrepresented," Delco said.

Previously, trucking companies could fix their numbers with a pencil or pen if their drivers worked overtime. But with automated trackers, that's more difficult to do.

Commercial truckers were mandated to use the logging devices by mid-December 2017. Agricultural commodity haulers got the 90-day waiver, and another one on Tuesday.

The delays give the Transportation Department time to consider public comments from the industry and make any changes to its electronic logging requirements, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Before Tuesday's announcement, truck drivers were waiting on the Department of Transportation for clarification, an extension of the waiver, or exemptions for livestock haulers.

The Transportation Department's mandate also affected smaller livestock haulers who may have never dealt with trucking regulations. Depending on the weight of the vehicle and whether the distance traveled is beyond a 150-mile radius, livestock haulers involved in agriculture, stock and horse shows, or rodeos, may need an electronic logging device.

Beth Rumley, a researcher with the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, wrote an outline sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to explain the logging device mandate.

"We've just had so many questions about it," Rumley said. "Unfortunately, we started thinking it would be something very short." It ended up being seven pages.

Burkham said most of his beef producers won't be affected by the mandate. But there is some concern for ranchers reliant on commercial rigs to get their cattle to feedlots and slaughterhouses.

Travis Justice, chief economist with the Arkansas Farm Bureau, said farmers hauling commodities less than eight days a month are classified as "infrequent haulers" and won't be required to use electronic recordkeepers. Farmers can also obtain specialty tags, licenses and other forms of exemption from the mandate.

The rules haven't changed, Justice said. "[The mandate's] just raised the issue. Some commodity haulers may be out of compliance that have been around for 20 years."

A Missouri-based group representing small-business truckers has been staunchly opposed to the electronic logging mandate for years. In a letter issued March 1, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association claimed that regulators, businesses and the transportation agency were not ready for the $2 billion mandate. The "patchwork of temporary waivers, exemptions and 'soft enforcement' deadlines ... have only caused more confusion across the country," the letter said.

On the other hand, Delco said there's been ample time for companies to adapt to the Department of Transportation's electronic logging requirements. The mandatory requirement was issued December 2015, giving truckers two years to comply. The law won't be enforced until April 1, according to the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

"There should be no impact," Delco said, "because [drivers] should have been following the laws in the first place."

Business on 03/15/2018

Print Headline: Animal, crop haulers get e-logs delay

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