Most commercial truckers are limited to 11 hours of driving time, followed by 10 hours off duty. Agriculture is exempted when driving within 100 miles, allowing shuttling of both inputs and production, under a 2005 law known as SAFETEA-LU.
Now, a study by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Volpe National Transportation Systems Center found that such exempt carriers had a 19% higher crash rate than ag carriers operating outside a 100-mile radius (and therefore subject to the hours-of-service rule) during 2005-2007.
The study also showed that on average, the exempt drivers had a 24% higher incidence of violations and out-of-service rates in the categories of unsafe driving, driver fitness, vehicle maintenance, and improper loading than ag drivers outside the 100-mile radius.
Furthermore, in 2007, agricultural carriers as a whole had 32% higher violation and out-of-service rates than the rest of the trucking industry in the categories of unsafe driver, driver fitness, vehicle maintenance, and improper loading.
"Since driver-related factors are such a large contributor to crashes, it stands to reason that the hours-of-service exemptions provided in the last Highway Act are largely responsible for the increased rates,” says Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance Executive Director, Stephen F. Campbell, who called the Volpe study a compelling reason to repeal these hours-of-service exemptions. "Safety is clearly compromised by these exemptions and they should be repealed in the upcoming Transportation Reauthorization Act.”
"This possible loss of exemption is important for a number of reasons,” says Ken Eriksen, senior vice president for transportation services with Informa. "In this day of larger harvest equipment, farmers need to work the necessary hours to keep pace with that equipment. Second, farmers need to be able to harvest without worrying about truck drivers running out of time in order to beat weather delays. Finally, because of the more rapid harvest, trucks sometimes experience substantial lineups at elevators waiting to unload, and that time counts as drive time.”
Because inputs often need to be moved into place rapidly, in a short time frame, supplies also could be disrupted at critical periods.
What to do? Write your legislators to let them know how important the hours rules are to your operation. And cite your clean accident and violation record!
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