By JIM RUTLEDGE
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Several of the nation’s largest agricultural organizations have thrown their support behind a proposed Senate bill that would extend hours truckers hauling livestock could travel before they need to stop and rest. It would also change the mandate of truckers using electronic logging devices (ELD) to monitor travel times.
The agricultural groups contend hauling livestock is not the same as hauling a load of non-perishable goods. Humane hauling practices would dictate the animals arrive at their destination as quickly as possible.
“The current Hours of Service for livestock haulers present big challenges for our industry and can often jeopardize the health and well-being of livestock,” said Kevin Kester, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association who supports the legislations. “Hauling livestock is inherently different than hauling products like paper towels or bottles of water,” Kester said.
In opposition to the legislation, the Truck Safety Coalition (TSC) says it “strongly opposes” the measure and calls on Congress “to reject this unsafe bill at a time when truck crashes, and resulting injuries and deaths continue to rise.”
On June 12, Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) introduced the Modernizing Agricultural Transportation Act (MATC), in a drive to reform the ELD and Hours of Service (HOS) regulations. The bill would also delay enforcement of the electronic logging devices until the reforms required under the Act are formally proposed and changed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).
“Improving highway safety is an important goal, but the rules we put in place must recognize the very real challenges faced by those who haul livestock and other perishable commodities,” says Hoeven.
The Senate bill (S.3051) is the companion legislation to the House version of the measure, the Transporting Livestock Across America Safety Act (TLAAS), (H.R. 6079), introduced on May 23. Together, the two bills would reform the HOS and ELD rules which lawmakers say will ensure animal welfare, highway safety and the well being of truck livestock haulers.
The legislation take into consideration that there are living animals on trailers that must be kept moving, and they must get to their destination as quickly and as safely as possible.
Enacting the two bills would provide more drive time for livestock haulers, as well as granting the flexibility for drivers to rest at any point during the trip without breaking the HOS rule. The measures further allow another 150 air miles exemption on the back end of a livestock haul to account for the wait time that occurs when unloading live animals.
ELD’s have been used since 2015 to track driving times and distances of livestock truckers. Under the current law, truckers are required to turn on their ELD’s after crossing out of the 150-air-mile radius from their loading point, after which they can only drive for 11 hours before taking a mandatory 10-hour break.
Drivers caught violating the ELD or HOS regulations face fines of between $100 to $500 for each violation.
Jim Heimerl, president of the National Pork Producers Council says the bill will help find the best solutions for animal welfare concerns.
“A trucker hauling livestock can’t just pull over and go ‘off-duty,” leaving animals unattended. Incompatibility between the HOS regulations and livestock hauling must be address,” Heimerl said.
Another provision of the Senate bill calls for establishing a working group with the DOT to help identify complications in the current regulations that impede safe, humane and market-efficient transport of livestock. The working group would have 12 months to establish guidelines for regulatory or legislative action to improve moving livestock, and members would be selected from both the transportation and agriculture industries, and the USDA.
The Transportation Secretary will be required to recommend changes to HOS and ELD regulations within 120 days after receiving the working group’s report.
The Senate legislation calls for suspension of the HOS and ELD rules pending the DOT’s recommendation, measures that are opposed by the Truck Safety Coalition.
“TSC is generally supportive of attempts to study an issue or collaborate with other stakeholders, but we reject the notion that doing so be tethered to the suspension of a safety provision,” the safety group said in a statement to Farm World.
“In coupling the disparate actions – study and suspend – the authors reveal their true intent: remove ELD requirements for truck drivers hauling agricultural commodities because a select few drivers complained about consequences they might fact due to their non-compliance,” the statement said.
Farm groups supporting the congressional legislation include the National Port Producers Council, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, the Livestock Marketing Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Honey Producers and the Rocky Mountain Farmer’s Union.
The Senate’s MATC is the latest legislation in a number of fixes that have been proposed to and since the ELD regulations started in December 2017. Currently, livestock haulers are exempt from the ELD until Sept. 30, 2018.
The Senate bill has 17 co-sponsors, 11 Republicans and 6 Democrats. The House version has 45 co-sponsors, 43 Republicans and 2 Democrats.