Trying to quell fast-spreading concerns about its policy plans for farm truck operators, the Department of Transportation said it is not planning to force farm drivers to get commercial drivers’ licenses.
“Let's be crystal clear: There are no new DOT regulations in the works for America's farm community,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said on his blog.
Fear had spread rapidly that the DOT would require drivers of farm trucks to obtain CDLs like long-haul freight truckers, after the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in a May 31 Federal Register notice asked the farm community to comment on its safety rules and specifically on whether sharecroppers should be considered contract carriers.
Officials from some state farm bureau organizations told their members the comment request was a prelude to imposing CDL requirements on farmers who haul their crops to market, effectively overriding longstanding state agricultural exemptions for road use.
The FMCSA received about 1,700 comments, mostly telling the agency to leave things alone for and let states apply farm exceptions as they already do.
LaHood on Wednesday invoked his upbringing in central Illinois’ farm territory to show he understood farmers’ road access needs. “I understand that farmers don't just put food on our tables; they also help fuel our economy. It’s not an easy life, and we are not about to make that critical job any harder,” he said.
To show more common cause with farmers, his blog entry included photos of Deputy Transportation Secretary John Porcari operating a farm tractor simulator and sitting in a real tractor at the Ohio State Fair.
“The farm community can be confident that states will continue to follow the regulatory exemptions for farmers that have always worked so well," Porcari said.
More precisely, the FMCSA clarified that “no regulations will be proposed for any new safety requirements or changes to the rules governing the transport of agricultural products, farm machinery, or farm supplies to or from a farm.”
It also issued a formal regulatory guidance notice saying that share-croppers hauling farm goods are not common carriers and so are eligible for the usual state CDL exemptions to farmers.