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Exploring the Benefits of the FMCSA Extended Protections for Under-21 Harvest Haulers

10/23/2023 20:56

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently announced an extension of the current hours of service (HOS) exemptions for certain under-21 commercial drivers, specifically those involved in agricultural harvesting operations. This decision marks a significant development in the trucking industry, as it allows younger drivers to transport critical goods during peak harvesting seasons.

This grabs the attention of the Motor Carrier industry with all the pilot program ahead.

The extension, which will be effective until July 2023, has sparked a discussion among industry experts and stakeholders about the potential benefits and implications of allowing under-21 harvest haulers on the road. Some argue that this move will create more job opportunities for young drivers and alleviate the driver shortage crisis, while others express concerns about safety and proper training for these inexperienced drivers.

In this article, we will explore the reasons behind the FMCSA's decision to extend these exemptions, the potential advantages for both the industry and the economy, and the measures in place to ensure the safety of these under-21 harvest haulers.

Agency renews exemption for 18-20-year-old drivers who truck for farmers

Truck drivers under the age of 21 are not all prohibited from transporting freight across state lines, and federal regulators are taking steps to ensure that a specific group of these drivers can continue doing so without facing any legal obstacles.

In March, an association of farm-service harvest crews, who are exempted from certain Commercial Driver's License (CDL) requirements, requested the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to extend their exemption from state restrictions for another five years.

The FMCSA granted a provisional two-year extension on Wednesday. The need for this exemption arises from the fact that some states' law enforcement agencies have not been correctly acknowledging the existing exception for these types of drivers. U.S. Custom Harvesters Inc. (USCHI), the group seeking the renewal, has reported instances where their crews have been pulled over by highway patrol and forced to park their trucks due to misinterpretation of the intrastate "K" restriction on their CDLs.

The K" restriction

This restriction limits the license's validity to the issuing state, leading law enforcement to wrongly assume that it is invalid outside the driver's home state, even though the exception allows them to cross state lines. USCHI has expressed concern over finding drivers, as it is challenging to recruit individuals who are willing to adopt the demanding lifestyle associated with this profession and are not tied down by family and other commitments.

The inability to employ younger drivers would have a significant impact on the timely harvest of crops, potentially resulting in a shortage of food.

The New Terms and Conditions

Custom harvesters offer equipment, labor, and transportation services to assist farmers in the vital task of crop harvesting. This demanding work typically takes place from March to October, spanning various regions across the country. To effectively cater to farmers' needs, drivers must travel between states, dedicating anywhere from a few days to several months to aid a single farmer.

This specific exemption, however, only applies to members of the United States Custom Harvesters, Inc. (USCHI), which consists of approximately 400 individuals, as estimated by Sieren. On average, each member has about three crews, resulting in a potential beneficiary pool of around 1,200 drivers.

While granting the provisional renewal, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) highlighted a previous oversight where certain crashes involving exempted drivers were not reported during the initial five-year exemption period. FMCSA's analysis of USCHI members' data revealed several preventable crashes, including 14 police crash reports involving custom harvester operators under 21 years old. However, due to the exemption's extended duration and a lack of comprehensive information on the age demographics within the agricultural driver population, it remains inconclusive whether the exemption has negatively impacted safety.

FMCSA has imposed new terms and conditions on the exemption, which will remain in effect until its expiration in October 2025, provided there are no compelling public comments or data that prompt the agency to terminate it earlier. Stakeholders and concerned parties have an opportunity to contribute their perspectives during the comment period, which concludes on November 13th.

In Conclusion

The FMCSA's extension of protections for under-21 harvest haulers is a promising step towards addressing the ongoing labor shortage in the agricultural industry. By providing younger drivers with the opportunity to gain valuable experience and training, this program has the potential to not only benefit individual drivers, but also boost productivity and efficiency in the agricultural sector.

As more young drivers join the workforce and gain experience, we may see a positive impact on the industry as a whole. While challenges may still exist, this extension of protections is a positive step towards addressing them and supporting the future of agriculture.

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