By DARRIN YOUKER
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania farmers have caught a reprieve from federal regulations that would have held them to the same standards as commercial truck drivers.
Pennsylvania governor Edward Rendell signed a law last week that exempts farmers from having to obtain a commercial drivers license when operating farm vehicles that are more than 17,000 pounds in gross weight.
The new law, adopted earlier this month by state lawmakers, exempts farmers from having to maintain a CDL, keep log books and obtain medical certification, for vehicles and implements between 17,000 and 26,000 pounds.
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is still seeking exemptions for farmers for vehicles and implements above the 26,000 weight classification, but those changes would have to happen on the national level, said Mark O’Neill, farm bureau spokesman.
“We want to fully restore exemptions for farm trucks,” he said. Pennsylvania lawmakers gave farmers the most exemptions they could without running into problems with federal regulations, O’Neill said.
“This will restore a lot of the exemptions that farmers and farm truck drivers had before these new regulations went into effect,” he said. “It will prevent the federal government from requiring these regulations for intrastate trucking.”
Earlier this year, a review of Pennsylvania regulations by the Federal Department of Transportation found deficiencies in the state’s commercial driving standards.
In interpreting the new set of regulations, which went into effect in April, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation did not see any room for exempting farming vehicles, O’Neill said. That is why lawmakers needed to act to provide some relief, he said.
Under those federal guidelines, farmers would have had to maintain a commercial driver’s license, keep a log of operating hours, and prevented youth under the age of 18 from operating some equipment.
“It would have broken their backs,” said Harry Karki, president of the Beaver-Lawrence Farm Bureau. “Everything was fine until the feds came in and put these regulations on us.”
Karki, who operates a 70-head beef cattle operation, said it was ridiculous to think that he and other farmers would have needed to get a CDL and keep medical records.
Some farmers with larger operations will obtain a CDL, especially if they are on the road often, but that step is cost prohibitive for many operations, Karki said.
Once the new federal regulations began, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with transportation officials about working on a compromise, O’Neill said.
Part of the problem with the new regulations was Pennsylvania risked losing federal dollars for non-compliance, he said.
The new legislation adopted by Pennsylvania lawmakers does not put the state in jeopardy for losing out on any money, O’Neill said.
One of the primary concerns about getting laws change in Pennsylvania was that requiring any farmers operating a vehicle over the 17,000 weight limit could have significantly curtailed many operations.
A farmer delivering a load of hay often exceeds that weight classification, he said.
“We are not talking about 18-wheelers here,” O’Neill said.
Plus, Pennsylvania farmers have a good safety record out on the road, O’Neill said.
In the past two years there have only been three accidents involving farm equipment and none of those were fatalities, he said.
“We have maintained that safety involving farm trucks was never a real issue,” he said.
Karki said he was pleased with the work that farming organizations did to overturn these regulations, and that Pennsylvania legislators recognized that there was a problem.
“You have to move equipment around to be a farmer,” he said.