On June 10th, 2017, the U.S. House of Representatives proposed a new Department of Transportation (DOT) bill that, if passed, carried ELD exemptions for livestock and insect haulers, as well as state law exemptions regarding a carrier’s requirement to provide paid meal and rest breaks for drivers.
As of July 13th, that bill moved onto the next stage when it passed by the House Appropriations Committee’s transportation subcommittee.
On July 17th, the bill made it to its next stage when the House Appropriations Committee stamped its approval on legislation that will fund the DOT through the 2018 fiscal year. If enacted, this legislation will allow an ELD compliance extension for livestock haulers, among other details, but it does not offer complete relief or exemption from ELD compliance.
If the bill continues to advance, livestock haulers would get a short-term reprieve from complying with the ELD mandate. The key here is that it’s a short-term reprieve, not full exemption. That’s because the bill’s language only prevents FMCSA from enforcing the ELD mandate in the 2018 fiscal year, which ends September 30, 2018. No other date has been set that requires livestock haulers to adopt ELDs.
According to a transportation bill from the 1980’s, livestock may be defined as “…cattle, elk, reindeer, bison, horses, deer, sheep, goats, swine, poultry (including egg-producing poultry), fish used for food, and other animals designated by the [Secretary of Agriculture] that are part of a foundation herd or offspring.” If this still holds true, and if the bill becomes law, then truck drivers transporting any of these types of livestock will qualify for this ELD delay or exemption.
The House Committee on Appropriations provided these words of caution regarding livestock hauler operations:
“Drivers transporting ‘agricultural commodities,’ including livestock, are exempt from the hours-of-service regulations while operating within 150 air-miles of the source of such commodities.” But because the committee correctly noted that livestock haulers sometimes make deliveries well beyond the exempt zone, they made further notes for those trips: “On these trips, (livestock haulers) may exceed the 11- and 14-hour limits, even though their HOS ‘clock’ does not start until they go beyond the 150 air-mile radius.”
Hauling livestock has its own set of challenges and variables, according to Kevin Lester, president-elect of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and an ELD mandate delay may be just what’s needed to get their house in order before moving forward with ELD compliance.
“This delay will give us time to address our industry-specific concerns, and give us more time to work with federal regulators to add needed flexibility, as hauling livestock has many challenges and variables.” - Kevin Lester
Welfare of the animals and drivers are also at the center of this, as the House Committee on Appropriations also “directs FMCSA to balance the welfare of livestock and the risks of driver fatigue on trips beyond the exempt zone and to pay close attention to the special circumstances of agricultural transporters. FMCSA shall continue using its regulatory tools to grant relief that appropriately reconciles highway safety with the unique needs of these carriers and their living cargo.”
As of now, neither the House nor the Senate (with their own DOT appropriations bill) have indicated a timeline for the consideration of their respective bills. However, if the two chambers pass bills that are not identical, legislators from both sides will need to work together to produce a unified bill. That bill must then be passed by the House and the Senate, and then signed by President Trump.