July 30, 2018

Weekly Column: Balancing Road Safety With Realities Of Ag Production

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

Holding town meetings in all of Idaho’s communities enables me to hear clearly some of the most pressing issues on the minds of Idahoans.  Oftentimes those concerns are echoed by their neighbors and in other communities.  At town meetings held earlier this year in Idaho’s unincorporated communities, Idahoans shared concerns about the impacts of the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate on safely hauling Idaho agricultural goods, including livestock and perishable commodities such as milk and fresh produce.  I then called U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao to discuss these concerns and possible remedies.  The DOT agreed to work with Congress to address the problems with the regulation and implement policies to ensure road safety while also enabling farmers and ranchers to continue to safely transport livestock and produce.  Since that discussion, I have been taking additional steps to help maintain that balance.  

In 2015, the DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a final rule to implement a 2012 federal highway law provision requiring the agency to issue a rule mandating the use of Electronic Logging Devices, rather than relying on paper logbooks, to ensure commercial carriers meet limitations on the hours drivers are allowed to operate their trucks.  The problem is the requirements pose considerable complications for many in the agricultural community, particularly those involved in transporting livestock (including cows, live fish and honeybees).  Hauling livestock is different than hauling other commodities.  Extensive preparation and care go into ensuring the safety of the animals, particularly during summer months.  Livestock haulers who reach driving-time limits while hauling livestock will face difficult decisions:  compliance with animal welfare laws and guidelines or compliance with federal Hours of Service regulations. 

Concerns with this no-win situation contributed to the Administration and Congress delaying the implementation of the rule for agricultural haulers multiple times.  Currently, the enforcement of the ELD rule is delayed until September 30, 2018, through a law Congress passed and the President signed.  Other steps are being taken to address the problems with this rule:

  • In May, I joined a bipartisan group of 30 senators, including fellow Idaho Senator Jim Risch, in sending a letter to FMCSA Administrator Raymond Martinez encouraging the agency to look into improving the regulation to ensure drivers across differing operations can safely and efficiently comply with the requirements.
  • In June, I co-sponsored S. 2938, the Transporting Livestock Across America Safely Act.  This bipartisan legislation would provide carriers with greater flexibility in administering operating hours when hauling livestock and insects.  I also co-sponsored this and similar legislation as amendments to the Senate’s 2018 Farm Bill, but they were not adopted.     
  • In June, I co-sponsored S. 3051, the Modernizing Agriculture Transportation Act.  This  bipartisan legislation would suspend the ELD mandate until the Transportation Secretary proposes regulatory changes based on the recommendations of a working group (made up of federal government officials, highway safety experts, transportation industries and agricultural shippers) that would be established to review the regulations, with a particular focus on identifying obstacles to the safe and humane transport of livestock, insects and agricultural commodities.  The bill includes deadlines for the recommendations. 

While more work remains, these efforts are beginning to yield results.  On May 31, 2018, FMCSA released additional guidance outlining exemptions and clarifications addressing agricultural concerns.  We must keep up with advanced technology while ensuring federal regulation increases safety on our roads and bridges without unduly impacting those who safely and reliably move goods and services throughout our country.  I will continue to work to ensure this policy properly balances public safety with the safe and humane transport of livestock and agricultural goods.

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Word Count:  600