A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, led by John Thune (R-SD), has sent a strongly worded letter to Anne Ferro, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), opposing proposed changes by FMCSA to federal regulations that if adopted would regulate certain agricultural vehicles as commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). If the proposed rulemaking is adopted, those who operate farm equipment on public roads would become subject to the requirements of the Commercial Driver's License (CDL) rule.

“This is yet another federal government solution in search of a problem,” said Thune in a news release dated Aug. 1. “Farmers and ranchers moving equipment and hauling grain, livestock, or other agricultural products relatively short distances should not be forced to comply with the same regulations as commercial truck drivers who oftentimes haul freight thousands of miles.”

Thune stated that changing the rules for agricultural equipment operators would “add costs, restrict the movement of agricultural equipment, and complicate hauling their crops and livestock to market."
The letter concerns Docket No. FMCSA-2011-014: “Regulatory Guidance: Applicability of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations to Operators of Certain Farm Vehicles and Off-Road Agricultural Equipment,” which states that FMCSA is concerned with … “the factors the states are using in deciding whether farm vehicle drivers transporting agricultural commodities, farm supplies and equipment as part of a crop share agreement are subject to the commercial driver’s license regulations… and proposed guidance to determine whether off-road farm equipment or implements of husbandry operated on public roads for limited distances are considered commercial motor vehicles.”

The key points the Senators raise in the letter are threefold:

  • How does one distinguish between intra- and interstate commerce when a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) is operated within the boundaries of a single state?
  • Should the agency distinguish between indirect and direct compensation (crop-share vs. cash rent leases) in deciding whether a farm vehicle driver is eligible for the exception to the commercial drivers license in 49 CFR 383.3(d)(1)?
  • Should implements of husbandry and other farm equipment be considered CMVs?

“While we agree road safety should be a top priority, we believe new regulations would amount to yet another government overreach and would have negative consequences on the food production industry,” the letter states. “If this proposal were to become effective all farmers, ranchers, and producers would be determined commercial drivers, requiring them to acquire additional documentation, maintain health records, logs of their travel, and restrict the age of those permitted to drive farm equipment.”

Joining Thune as signatories to the letter were Sens. Pat Roberts (R-KS), Richard Lugar (R-IN), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), John Boozman (R-AR), Roy Blunt (R-MO), James Inhofe (R-OK), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), John Hoeven (R-ND), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ben Nelson (D-NB), Johnny Isakson(R-GA), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Thad Cochran(R-MS), Mike Johanns (R-NB), Tim Johnson (D-SD) , Susan Collins (R-ME), and Kent Conrad (D-ND).