October 11, 2023

FMCSA extends protections for under-21 harvest haulers


WASHINGTON — Not all truck drivers under age 21 are barred from hauling freight between states, and federal regulators are ensuring that one group of such drivers continues to do so without risk of being sidelined by law enforcement.

An association of farm-service harvest crews — who are provided an exception under the law from certain CDL qualifications, including a requirement that drivers hauling across state lines be at least 21 — asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in March to renew a five-year exemption from state restrictions.

FMCSA approved the extension — for two years, on a provisional basis — on Wednesday. The need for the exemption, when the law already carves out an exception for these types of drivers, came because law enforcement in some states hasn’t been properly recognizing the law, according to U.S. Custom Harvesters Inc. (USCHI), the group seeking the renewal.

“Our crews are getting pulled over by highway patrol, who are making them park their trucks,” Mandi Sieren, operations manager for USCHI, told FreightWaves.

Sieren explained that because states are using the intrastate “K” restriction on drivers’ CDLs — which makes the license valid only within the issuing state — law enforcement is interpreting the restriction to mean that the license is invalid outside the driver’s home state, even though the driver is allowed to cross state lines under the exception carve out.

“Finding drivers is our No. 1 issue because it’s hard to find people willing to deal with that lifestyle who aren’t tied down with family and other commitments,” Sieren said. “So if we’re not able to use younger drivers, farms don’t get harvested, and that means no food.”

Custom harvesters supply and transport equipment and labor to help farmers harvest crops. The busy season runs from March to October as the harvest progresses across the country. The work requires drivers to travel between states, spending from a few days to several months working crops for a single farmer.

The exemption applies only to USCHI members — roughly 400, according to Sieren, with the number of crews averaging roughly three per member. That translates to about 1,200 drivers potentially able to benefit from the exemption.

In granting the provisional renewal, FMCSA noted that, “likely through miscommunications and misunderstandings between the agency, USCHI and its membership, certain crashes involving the drivers operating under the exemption were not reported to the Agency during the first 5-year exemption.

“FMCSA’s review of USCHI members’ data indicates there have been crashes which could be considered preventable. The agency obtained 14 police crash reports involving custom harvester operators under the age of 21. However, given the five-year period of the exemption, and a lack of information on the age peer group within the agricultural driver population, there is insufficient information to conclude that the exemption has resulted in a degradation of safety.”

The exemption, according to FMCSA, is subject to new terms and conditions and the absence of public comments and data that would cause the agency to terminate it before it expires in October 2025. The comment period is open through Nov. 13.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.


The second annual F3: Future of Freight Festival will be held in Chattanooga, “The Scenic City,” this November. F3 combines innovation and entertainment — featuring live demos, industry experts discussing freight market trends for 2024, afternoon networking events, and Grammy Award-winning musicians performing in the evenings amidst the cool Appalachian fall weather.

Source link
In this article:
Share on social media: