Fleetwood—Greg S. Fischer, Bureau of Patrol, Commercial Vehicle Safety Division, addressed changes in commercial vehicle motor laws and how they affect farm trucks on the road.
Fleetwood Police Department Sgt. Greg Geisinger, a commerical motor vehicle enforcement officer, arranged to have a representative from Harrisburg come to Fleetwood Grange Hall Feb. 12 from 12:30 to 3 p.m. to give a presentation on commercial motor vehicle laws and how they pertain to agricultural equipment, in particular, farm trucks. The Fleetwood Police Department has received several questions regarding farm truck operations in the area.
“That’s why we wanted to bring it to the public and to the farmers because there’s a lot of questions, there’s a lot of changes in the regulations and we’ve been fielding a lot of questions and that’s why we wanted to put this presentation together,” said Geisinger.
Because of the questions regarding farm truck operations in the area, Geisinger arranged the meeting through the Grange and Farm Bureau. There were about 75 attendees including officials, Mennonites, farmers, and commercial vehicle drivers. Some people were wondering which direction they should go with their business and equipment.
“I think all the farmers pretty much got it, it’s just that there were other people here that weren’t farm related and were on the border of do I go farm way or do I go commercial way?” Geisinger said.
A slideshow opened with Pennsylvania Crash History beginning with 166 fatal crashers in 2010 as compared to 131 in 2013. There were 5,812 non-fatal crashes in 2010 and 4,050 in 2013. Injury crashes tallied to 3,002 in 2010 and 1,777 in 2013.
“Safety is truly what the mission is for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Division,” said Fischer.
The slideshow was about inspections, road conditions, weigh stations, width of vehicles in Pennsylvania, regulations of commercial vehicles and enforcement. Fischer discussed the differences of commercial and farm vehicles as well as any exemptions for farm vehicles.
“But now, let’s all take a sigh of relief here and take a step back and look at what MAP 21 (Moving Ahead For Progress in the 21 Century),” said Fischer.
Fischer said MAP 21 is federal legislation that gives a broad exemption to the farmer for the covered farm vehicle. A covered farm vehicle is defined as being registered in some way as a farm vehicle; it is a vehicle with a farm plate or a bi-annual certificate of exemption. This is where the farm vehicles are exempt from the Department of Transportation regulations.
Fischer said exemptions pertain to within 150 miles of the farm and here within Pennsylvania you’re exempt from the commercial driver’s license, controlled substances and alcohol use and testing, physical qualifications and examination, hours of service, inspection, repair, and maintenance. If there is a vehicle code violation, you can be stopped, but you aren’t required to have that DOT number. Your vehicle can be inspected, but it’s not going to have an impact on you or a safety rating.
“What happens when you’re in that situation now, where the regulations do apply, and you’re using that farm tag, but you’re not using it as a farm vehicle and you’ve gone outside the bounds of that farm registration, that’s actually a vehicle code violation,” said Fischer.
Fischer further explained that you are not subject to the safety regulations as far as that DOT tracking of your safety score having to have requirements, however, if you go outside the use of that truck registration and go beyond what that’s meant for, it’s no longer a covered farm vehicle if you’re in violation of the use for that tag.
Fischer said, “That covered farm vehicle gives that broad exemption to the regulations and that’s why that commercial guy that’s out has the DOT number and he’s hauling the manure and things like that, that’s why he needs that DOT number. He can’t have that farm tag or that farm plate because he’s not the farmer.”
Commercial vehicles hauling farm products and supplies had certain exemptions to the regulations under MAP 21. The main one is the hours of service while engaged in those agricultural operations while delivering those supplies.
Daniel Burkholder, Fleetwood, said, “My biggest concern is how do we remain legal in a diversified operation of farming and business? There’s a lot of areas that are at an officer’s jurisdiction and common sense is a great thing, but if we happen to meet someone that doesn’t have the same level of common sense, we’re in problems.”
“I think I’m just as confused now as I was before,” said Marshall Mangold, New Tripoli.
Burkholder added, “Don’t get me wrong, they did a very good job at what they did; they get an A plus. There are situations that only a farmer will understand, as me and him [Mangold] were talking about, that are almost farm specific.”
“There should be an expert, I think, that we could call in our particular instances—stipulations, gross legal weights and things like that—that we could ask somebody and get their name and time and date and all that and document it to make sure we’re covered,” said Burkholder. “A hot line or somebody who is very familiar with the agriculture end of things because I do understand that there are some rules that can be tweaked.”
“The biggest concern that I have is that when we get pulled over, are we legal or aren’t we? I don’t mind having my things legal, but I want to know what I need to do to get them legal,” said Burkholder. “I don’t want to get a $3,000 to 4,000 fine and, oh, I thought I was legal and a Merry Christmas when I need to go get it right, but you still owe.”
Sheila Miller, Berks County Agricultural Coordinator, said a hot line is a better idea than someone who could physically come out to check the situation. The visit would take too much time to help the farmer’s need for immediate attention.
“Maybe there could be established within PennDOT a hotline that farmers could call,” said Miller.
David Kurtz, Shoemakersville, went to the meeting to get grey area questions answered such as licensing for the pick-up trucks.
“You have a lot of benefits to having the farm tag at a cheaper registration rate, but the way I use my pick-up, I pay the regular registration so I could use my pick-up for personal use and farm use because that saves me from buying a car,” said Kurtz.
With the farm tag, Kurtz is limited on where he can go with his truck. He would not be able to use it for vacations, for example. He wouldn’t be able to go to the store to pick up lumber for a different project; it would have to be for farm use, but the way it sounds to Kurtz, he is not allowed to use his truck to pull a hay wagon with the regular registration.
During the meeting, Kurtz had brought up his concerns about how he uses his pick-up trucks for farming and how are the changes and regulations going to apply. Because of debates over customized farm vehicles including usage both for the farmer’s own use and as an implement when hired by another farmer, Fischer suggested a sidebar after his presentation.
“There are a lot of farmers that deliver hay to hay auctions. Today is a big hay auction up in Lancaster. Sales are over by noon and then they have to deliver it yet so they would have missed the start time anyways. There was quite a few that I know I talked to that deliver hay and they were not here,” said Ken Schlegel, county legislature for the county grange.
“I was on the committee to help organize it. We thought it would be an important thing because the rules were brought out here like changing the width of the equipment going out on the highway,” said Feryl Treichler, Kutztown.
Treichler said that they needed to inform more farmers so they were aware of the current laws.
Miller said, “I thought it was helpful to have the dialog between farmers and state troopers that enforce these regulations. There’s a lot of interpretations of laws and that there’s a lot of confusion in the farm community as to what is and is not legal not just the farm community, but the law enforcement community as well.”
Miller said there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered and further refined for the farm community and that maybe another meeting at some point would be useful.
Fischer said if you have questions, call the Pennsylvania State Police Commercial Vehicle Safety Division: 717-346-7437 or go to www.fmcsa.dot.gov.