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Senators, Farmers Delay Tractor Rules

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Sen. Pat Roberts led a bipartisan group of Senators in asking the Department of Transportation to give farmers more time to weigh in on possible new rules governing farm vehicles that are driven on public roads.

Among other questions, the FMCSA is considering whether farmers who drive across state lines or who share a portion of their crops with a landlord should enjoy the vehicle safety exemptions. Should those categories of farmers be required to obtain commercial driver's licenses, a big segment of the industry could face a substantial new regulatory burden, agriculture lobbyists argue.

In the opposite camp, highway safety advocates counter that the rules governing commercial vehicles should be tightened. A long list of groups have won commercial safety rule exemptions, from the agriculture and utility industries to movie producers and grape growers, according to the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, a nonprofit representing the state and local agencies charged with enforcement.

Farmers "do operate big trucks that share the road with other people," said Steve Keppler, executive director of the alliance. The group maintains that multiple exemptions have contributed to confusion, spotty state enforcement and mounting safety hazards. As a nonprofit, the alliance does scant lobbying but is publicly advocating for improved oversight.

Keppler applauded the FMCSA for taking steps to clarify the rules. "I give them credit for putting this out there and taking comments on it," he said. Given farm industry reaction thus far, Ferro should have no shortage of comment letters to look over.

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