Know the law when trucking this winter

As harvest season winds down and farmers begin to take their grain to its final location, accidents on the road should be a high priority for producers to guard against, said Bill Field, a Purdue safety expert.

Weight is a key legal issue for drivers. Field said they should be familiar with state and local guidelines for weight restrictions.

“Most of the weigh stations say ‘Closed,’ but farmers still need to know the regulations,” Field said. “Farmers can ask at any state trooper post to find out that information. The bottom line is that if they get stopped for any reason, ignorance of the law is not an excuse; they will get a ticket.”

Farmers can also protect themselves by making sure the truck is in good working condition. Field recommended that they check lights, tires and brakes often.

“Usually, troopers don’t stop trucks because they look heavy; they will pull them over because they have lights covered with dirt or tires that look bald,” Field said.

Some owners establish limited liability corporations to help protect their farms in case of trucking accidents; however, that can eliminate certain farm exemptions for the operation.

“Whenever you’re traveling, grain spills on the highway can cause other drivers to have an accident,” Field said. “All around, it’s important to be a good neighbor.”

Many truck accidents are caused by human error, he said. Drugs, alcohol and tiredness also make up a significant number of farm-related truck accidents.

“It all starts with the driver,” he said. “Even though there are certain situations where farms are exempt from requiring a commercial driver’s license, my suggestion is that farm owners require all their drivers be CDL-licensed. This helps screen drivers and also means that the owner always knows who is driving.”

In Ohio, recent rumors had the agricultural community concerned about possible changes in the CDL requirements for agriculture, according to Peggy Hall, attorney and director of the Ohio State University Agricultural & Resource Law Program.

“Ohio law establishes a ‘farm truck operator exemption’ in Ohio Revised Code 4506.03(B)(1). This provision states that Ohio’s CDL requirements do not apply ‘to any qualified person when engaged in the operation of a farm truck,’” she said. “The farm truck exemption is designed to address the situation where a farmer trucks goods back and forth from the farm, but not for long distances.”

Hall said the definition of “farm truck” is a truck controlled and operated by a farmer that:

• Is used to transport products of the farm either to or from the farm, for a distance of not more than 150 miles, including livestock, livestock products, poultry, poultry products and floricultural and horticultural products,

• Supplies to the farm, from a distance of not more than 150 miles, including tile, fence, and every other thing or commodity used in agricultural, floricultural, horticultural, livestock, and poultry production, and livestock, poultry, and other animals and things used for breeding, feeding, or other purposes connected with the operation of the farm.

• Is not used in the operation of a motor transportation company or a private motor carrier.

Hall also said that it is important to note that the farm truck exemption refers specifically to a truck controlled and operated by a “farmer,” a term which the law does not define.

“This raises questions about who the law covers. Are farm family members and employees included? To date, there are not any published court opinions that lend clarity to the issue,” she said. “Farm operators should be aware that a citation could be possible if an officer believes a truck operator is not a ‘farmer.’”

For more, see the December issue of Ohio’s Country Journal.

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