FMCSA Denies Western Equipment Dealers Association Request for HOS ELD Exemption
The FMCSA Decision
WEDA requested this exemption from ELD use on behalf of several organizations and their members. Effectively, the requested exemption would eliminate the requirement for agricultural equipment dealers to install ELDs on their CMVs. WEDA stated that equipment dealer operations in agriculture present unique circumstances that warrant the requested exemption and that the failure to grant it would pose an undue burden on equipment dealers and their customers without a measurable safety benefit.
FMCSA reviewed the application and the 125 public comments submitted. On June 16, 2018, FMCSA denied WEDA's application for exemption because the Agency could not ensure that the exemption would provide the requisite level of safety.
Western Equipment Dealers Association Request for HOS ELD Exemption
WEDA filed this application for exemption on behalf of its own organization and the following: Northeast Equipment Dealers Association; North Dakota Implement Dealers Association; Midwest-South Eastern Equipment Dealers Association; Far West Equipment Dealers Association; Deep South Equipment Dealers Association; Equipment Dealers Association and the United Equipment Dealers Association.
These groups represent approximately 6,000 farm, industrial and outdoor power equipment dealers in North America. WEDA states that in the agriculture sector, equipment dealers play a key role in selling and servicing equipment for farmers and ranchers, as they transport machinery to and from farms and between dealerships. They partner with agricultural producers to increase productivity through the training and use of new equipment technologies. Complying with the ELD requirement will be unduly burdensome for equipment dealers and their customers—farmers and ranchers, without providing the sought-after safety advancements contemplated by the rule.
Many of the vehicles owned by equipment dealers require a commercial driver's license to operate. When transporting equipment to and from the farm, on behalf of the farmer, they are either delivering new equipment or transporting equipment to a dealership to be serviced. Equipment dealers also employ service trucks that drive to farms and ranches to work on customer's equipment and deliver parts to the customer's location. In either instance, these vehicles usually operate within a confined distance from the dealership of less than 150 miles, and are primarily in rural regions of their respective states.
WEDA states that due to the seasonal, unpredictable and rural nature of agriculture production, Congress has granted agriculture businesses numerous exemptions from transportation requirements. The clear intent was to accommodate agricultural operations by broadening the scope of existing agribusiness exemptions in terms of distance and types of entities covered by the exemption because the reality of farming and ranching operations required it.
WEDA explains that the agribusiness exemption to the HOS rules is separate and distinct from the short-haul exemption. Under 49 CFR (k)(1-3), equipment dealers are exempt from HOS and log book requirements during State-defined harvest and planting seasons when: (1) Transporting farm supplies for an agricultural purpose; (2) from the dealership to a farm; and (3) within a 150 air-mile radius of the distribution point. This exemption, however, does not cover transportation of equipment from the farm to a dealership.
The ELD rule, according to WEDA, creates confusing and overlapping scenarios due to the conflicting rules placed on equipment dealers. Depending on the State definition of harvest and planting season, an equipment dealer may be required to install an ELD for only the couple of months of the year when the agribusiness exemption is not in effect. The agribusiness exemption is limited in scope; therefore, an equipment dealer could be exempt from using an ELD in certain cases, while still required to utilize an ELD in others.
The ELD requirements threaten to limit the exemptions and weave a complex regulatory framework that would be difficult for equipment dealers to comply with, advises WEDA. The short-haul and agribusiness exceptions apply in different scenarios at different times, and it is unclear in the first instance whether both can be combined to cover a single driving operation. For example, the agribusiness exemption would not currently apply to an equipment dealer hauling a broken tractor from a farm to the dealership for repair. The short-haul exemption would apply, though, so long as the farm is within 100 miles and the HOS requirements are met. However, suppose a service truck hauling a trailer visits a farm 120 miles from the dealership to repair a tractor. After attempting repairs for several hours and working beyond 12 hours in the day, the technician must return with the tractor or another piece of equipment to perform services at the dealership. The short haul exemption would not apply because it is beyond the 100-mile radius and the HOS requirements have been exceeded, nor would the agribusiness exemption apply because a driver is not covered while transporting equipment from a farm to the dealership. The driver would then be required to record the entirety of the day's driving on an ELD because no exemption applies. This is but one scenario of many where three complex rules overlap at different intervals to create confusion about the regulations that should be followed, and do not contribute to increased safety for the driver or the driving public.
As a practical matter, WEDA states that equipment dealers are required to install ELDs in all of their commercial vehicles despite never or very rarely utilizing them. Because of the complex and confusing overlap, many dealers will install and utilize ELDs when unnecessary to avoid harsh penalties including thousands of dollars in fines and potential shutdown orders. Equipment dealers will not claim the exemptions intended for them by Congress because the confusion and complexity spawned by the ELD rule creates the risk of penalties being imposed which outweigh the benefits. The result will be severely diminished hours of operation for equipment dealers, and, consequently, reduced responsiveness to their customers. Costs and downtime for farmers and ranchers will undoubtedly increase making their agriculture producers less competitive in a global market.