In mid-December, as more than 3 million commercial truckers were subject to the ELD mandate, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) successfully lobbied the US Dept. of Transportation (DOT) to grant drivers of livestock trucks a 90-day reprieve due to the nature of the freight they haul and animal welfare considerations. That waiver was granted and was set to expire March 18. During the 90-day waiver period, lobbying went on in favor of and against the mandate as both sides weighed in on electronically enforcing HOS rules that limit driving time to 11 hours per day and limit drivers from being on duty for more than 14 hours during a 24-hour period (after that time period, truckers must then be off duty for 10 consecutive hours). While this may be inconvenient for typical truck drivers, those lobbying against the mandate explained that this system would cause more issues for livestock haulers whose top priority is the welfare of their live cargo.
On March 13, as the expiration date of the initial 90-day waiver was approaching, the DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced an additional 90-day temporary waiver from the ELD rule for agriculture-related transportation.
“We continue to see strong compliance rates across the country that improve weekly, but we are mindful of the unique work our agriculture community does and will use the following 90 days to ensure we publish more helpful guidance that all operators will benefit from,” said FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez at the time of the announcement.
US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue applauded Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao’s decision to issue the extension. “The ELD mandate imposes restrictions upon the agriculture industry that lack flexibility necessary for the unique realities of hauling agriculture commodities,” Perdue said after the announcement. “If the agriculture industry had been forced to comply by the March 18 deadline, live agricultural commodities, including plants and animals, would have been at risk of perishing before they reached their destination. The 90-day extension is critical to give DOT additional time to issue guidance on hours-of-service and other ELD exemptions that are troubling for agriculture haulers.
“Current ELD technologies do not recognize the hours-of-service exemptions for agriculture that are in federal law. This is a classic example of a one-size-fits-all federal regulation that ignores common sense to the detriment of sectors like agriculture.
“I applaud Secretary Chao for recognizing these obstacles and giving extra time for compliance while DOT issues guidance. While public safety is a critical concern for all of trucking, the safety of living agricultural commodities in transport must also be considered,” Perdue said.
Weighing the options
One of the concerns regarding the adoption of the new ELD system for livestock haulers, as well as any other truckers is cost. ELDs, can cost from $200 to $1,000 plus a $30-$50 monthly fee. They’re designed to record driving time, engine hours, vehicle movement and speed, miles driven and location information. They electronically report that data to federal and state inspectors and help the DOT enforce its Hours of Service regulation.
“Many livestock transportation companies are smaller fleets, operating on thin profit margins. Additional costs to purchase, install and maintain ELDs will add additional costs to the fleet operations,” said Tom Moyer, manager of Livehaul Logistics for PV Transport, an affiliate of Clemens Food Group. “In addition, incorporating ELDs may influence the decision of our older, professional drivers to remain or retire from the transportation industry. Many of these drivers grew up on the family farm, worked on the neighbor’s farm or dad was a truck driver and they rode with him in the summer months, developing their love and sprit of life on the open road. Livestock transportation companies may not be able to replace or fill their trucks’ empty seats if we adopt this new system.”
Still, there are many proponents of the regulation, including the American Trucking Association. According to the association, an electronic solution is long overdue, as it was a proposed rule in 2007 designed to replace cumbersome paper logs and eliminate fraudulent reporting while addressing the safety hazards of drowsy driving. HOS-compliant drivers with nothing to hide stand only to benefit from the ELD mandate, ATA maintains.
However, when it comes to hauling livestock there’s more to consider, said Michael Formica, assistant vice president and legal counsel, domestic policy for the National Pork Producers Council. “The hours of service rules were set up with a one-size-fits-all system by DOT – that’s not how it works,” he explained. “If you have to pull over when your time is up with a truck full of shoes, it’s no big deal – pulling over with a truck full of animals is something different.”
Driving for only 11 hours a day is not going to allow livestock haulers to get their job done, Formica said. “Most transport of cattle is going to be longer than the current hours of service allow. With hogs, the problem will be having to cut back on the number of runs they can get done within their HOS shift.” In addition, there’s a lot of time spent loading and unloading animals, which currently would be deducted from the total 14-hour daily HOS allotment.
NPPC, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), Farm Bureau and other stakeholders are all working together to communicate these issues of concern to lawmakers to develop a system that makes sense for the agricultural branch of the trucking industry.
“We have made a lot of progress – we have a pretty good relationship with the Dept. of Transportation,” Formica said. “They [DOT] recognize that there is a problem that needs to be solved now.” Formica said that since the livestock industry is just a small part of the overall trucking industry the needs of livestock haulers weren’t even considered when the HOS rules were first established. “As a regulatory agency, DOT’s focus is highway safety first and foremost. We, as an industry, need to provide them with data that can show them alternatives to the current regulations.”
One suggestion is expanding the HOS drive time to 14 hours, which would give drivers more time to get to their destinations, though it would still not be enough time to handle every scenario on the road.
Formica and Moyer both agree that there’s no easy answer to this issue, but for 90 more days livestock haulers can stick with the status quo. “We need to continue to bring visibility to the ELD issues and concerns so a balance between driver safety, utilization and efficiency of DOT hours-of-service regulations and animal welfare can be achieved,” Moyer said.