HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania farmers can breathe a sigh of relief after the state detoured a plan to change motor carrier safety laws.
The state was forced to update its motor carrier safety regulations by March 31 or face federal penalties that would have included the loss of $6 million in federal funds.
Pennsylvania has followed through with the updates, but has also made a plan so the rules do not place a burden on farmers.
One step taken is to extend the Pennsylvania harvest season. The rules provide exemptions during the growing season, which is now considered year-round instead of only nine months.
The announcement was made March 22 by state Transportation Secretary Allen E. Biehler, State Police Commissioner Col. Frank E. Pawlowski and Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding.
Year-round harvest seasons
Other states that have already extended the harvest season include: Maryland, New Jersey and West Virginia.
The new motor carrier safety rules do not apply to farm tractors and other farm equipment in tow that travel on roadways. Pennsylvania law already permits such non-truck vehicles on the roads. Licensed drivers under 18 can continue to operate any vehicle or combination of vehicles under 17,000 pounds.
Among the changes in the new rules that now comply with federal standards:
• Persons under 18 are not permitted to drive a truck-trailer farm vehicle combinations exceeding 17,000 pounds on public roads.
• Operators of single-unit farm vehicles traveling more than 150 miles from the farm must possess a medical certification.
• A record of vehicle maintenance must be kept for a single unity farm vehicle exceeding 17,000 pounds operating under a certificate of exemption.
• A pre- and post-trip inspection must be competed for a single unit farm vehicle greater than 17,000 pounds operating under a certificate of exemption.
Some exemptions included in the rules:
• Hours of service requirements and the keeping of logs and time records are waived during the growing season, while operating within a 100-mile radius.
• Pre-employment road testing and obtaining driving history requirements for drivers of farm vehicles are waived. The vehicle must be operated within 150 miles of the farm in order this waiver to apply.
• Non-commercial drivers license farm truck drivers who operate behind the 10-mile radius but within 150 miles of their normal work reporting location will not be required to keep logs, but will be subject to hours limitations and time keeping requirements.
• Operators of single-unit farm vehicles greater than 17,000 pounds operating under a certificate of exemption.
The change will provide farmers some relief from new regulations being placed on farm drivers and farm vehicles, but it falls far short of solving the overall problem, according to the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.
Farm Bureau is working for passage of legislation in the General Assembly to restore some of the exemptions for farm vehicles that have existed in Pennsylvania for more than 20 years.
However, the federal government warned Pennsylvania March 29 that proposed legislation to exempt farm vehicles from an update of motor carrier safety regulations, if enacted, could cost the state $28 million in annual federal aid.
The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau released a statement March 29 after learning of the warning from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
However, the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau believes that the state legislation about to be introduced by the state raising the weight threshold from 17,000 pounds to 26,000 pounds for farm vehicles is allowable under federal motor carrier safety regulations.
The issue is clearly not over between the state and federal governments. The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is asking more questions and asking clarification from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.