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FMCSA rejects work-rule exemption for livestock haulers

Livestock haulers remain frustrated after being told by federal regulators that they will not receive the relief from driver work rules they had requested four years ago.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on Tuesday denied a joint application for exemption from certain hours-of-service (HOS) rules filed in October 2018 by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and five other groups.

The groups, filing on behalf of drivers that haul livestock, insects and aquatic animals, were seeking specifically exemption from the current 11-hour driving limit and 14-hour driving window, contending those rules “were not drafted with livestock haulers in mind” and therefore did not take into account the needs of live cargo.

But FMCSA ruled the groups did not provide evidence that they could achieve a level of safety equivalent or greater than what would be achieved without the exemption.

“We are disappointed in FMCSA’s decision, especially when the cattle and beef supply chain faces continued stress from driver shortages and a potential rail strike,” Kent Bacus, NCBA executive director of government affairs, told FreightWaves in a statement. “Hauling cattle is very different from hauling consumer goods, which is why NCBA will continue urging congressional leaders to support expanded hours-of-service flexibility for livestock haulers so they can continue making their critical deliveries.”

Livestock haulers are already exempt from HOS regulations when driving within a 150 air-mile radius from where the livestock is sourced. In addition, last year’s infrastructure law allows them to also be exempt when driving within a 150 air-mile radius from the livestock’s final destination.

The exemptions were put in place because placing restrictive time limits on drive times could lead to animals being left without proper grazing accommodations and other health risks, according to haulers and their advocates.

But by adding flexibility to the 11- and 14-hour driving limits, granting the exemption, when combined with the exemptions already in place, essentially would have meant livestock haulers would be able to drive 21 or more hours during a work shift.

Most of the over 360 comments filed on the request supported it. Backing came from owner-operators and trucking companies that haul livestock, as well as from state associations that lobby on behalf of livestock haulers.

Among the 43 comments opposing it were safety heavy hitters like the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Commercial Vehicles Safety Alliance, along with the Truckload Carriers Association, Iowa Motor Truck Association and Animal Welfare Institute.

NTSB noted that although the livestock haulers propose implementing a fatigue risk management system that they asserted would provide an adequate level of safety in lieu of the standard HOS requirements, “the system they have proposed cannot be fulfilled because the FMCSA does not have a means to track, evaluate or validate the effectiveness” of the system.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.