Changes to HOS exemption impact livestock transportation
On March 13, 2020 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) made an emergency declaration in response to the national state of emergency caused by COVID-19 to ensure the transportation of necessary supplies and safety of motor carriers.
The emergency declaration was modified and extended on June 15, 2020, Aug. 15, 2020, Dec. 1, 2020, May 26, 2021 and again on Aug. 31, 2021. The most recent extension and amendment of the Emergency Declaration Number 2020-002 is valid through Nov. 30.
“Although the number of COVID-19 cases began to decline in the U.S. following widespread introduction of vaccinations, the delta variant and lagging vaccination rates reversed the downward trajectory and have resulted in a rapid rise in infections and hospitalizations across the country,” the FMCSA declaration reads. “Therefore, a continued exemption is needed to support direct emergency assistance for some supply chains.”
Supply chains included in the declaration include, “(1) livestock and livestock feed; (2) medical supplies and equipment related to the testing, diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19; (3) vaccines, constituent products, and medical supplies and equipment including ancillary supplies for the administration of vaccines related to the prevention of COVID-19; (4) supplies and equipment necessary for community safety, sanitation and prevention of community transmission of COVID-19 such as masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, soap disinfectants; (5) food, paper products and other groceries for emergency restocking of distribution centers or stores; (6) gasoline, diesel, jet fuel and ethyl alcohol; and (7) supplies to assist individuals impacted by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, e.g. building materials for individuals displaced or otherwise impacted as a result of the emergency,” according to the exemption.
Under the extension, motor carriers and drivers providing direct assistance in relief support related to the public health emergency are granted relief from 49 CFR § 390.3 – maximum driving time, or hours of service (HOS).
Confusion in supply chain prioritization
The U.S.. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) Transportation Committee shared, this version of the emergency declaration includes changes that livestock haulers should be aware of while operating under the HOS exemption. USCA Transportation Committee Co-Chair Alleah Hilker-Heise of Steve Hilker Trucking Co. addressed the changes presented and how they might affect livestock transportation.
First, Hilker-Heise notes under the exemption, “Direct assistance means transportation and other relief services provided by a motor carrier or its driver to the immediate restoration of essential services, such as medical care or essential supplies related to COVID-19.”
“We think this means the food supply chain, so there has been some arguments about when an animal is actually part of those essential services,” Hilker-Heise explains. “Our argument from the start of the exemptions is livestock at every stage are always part of the supply chain, so anytime there is a miss in the supply chain, we essentially have an emergency.”
While direct assistance under the exemption does not include non-emergent transportation of commodities or routine commercial deliveries, more confusion about the prioritization of stages in the supply chain comes into question.
Hilker-Heise says, “The reason we are able to keep our grocery stores and slaughterhouses supplied with beef is because the supply chain works and there are a lot of routine loads for this to happen.”
Routine loads run from the sale barn to the feedyard and from the feedyard to the slaughterhouse, she notes. The protein industry relies on the predictability along each stage of the supply chain and constant transportation of livestock.
“I suspect this is going to create some challenges for livestock transporters when it comes to roadside stops, especially if an officer and driver or carrier have different interpretations of the extension,” Hilker-Heise continues. “I think with good intentions, FMCSA has created confusion that will have to be addressed.”
Hilker-Heise shares, “There is a disconnect between the people creating these exemptions and the people on the ground.”
Record log requirements
One of the largest changes through the latest HOS exemption is for recordkeeping.
“The big thing that needs to be on producers’ radars is while we are exempt HOS, we must go back to keeping a logbook,” Hilker-Heise says. “We don’t have to abide by HOS we are typically bound by, but we do have to log everything.”
She explains, “If carriers or drivers have been running an electronic logging device (ELD), they have to go back to running an ELD the way they were prior to this emergency declaration. This is a big change from how livestock transporters have been operating.”
Hilker-Heise shares, Steve Hilker Trucking Co. will return to operating under ELD, HOS and agricultural exemptions as outlined by FMCSA’s 49 CFR § 395.1(k,s) and 49 CFR § 390.5T.
“I don’t see how this exemption isn’t going to create a lot of confusion roadside,” she says. “In the absence of real clarity and definition, it is worth it to us to have our team members in the midst of this confusion.”
If transporters continue to operate under the HOS emergency declaration, carriers must declare their reliance on the extension through the FMSCA portal each month, Hilker-Heise says.
Averi Hales is the editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.