Do you need a Commercial Driver’s License?
Like many other areas of law, driver’s license regulations for agricultural situations have unique provisions and exemptions. Recent rumors had the agricultural community concerned about possible changes in the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) requirements for agriculture. While the U.S. Department of Transportation has clarified that CDL provisions for agriculture will not change at the federal level, the rumors had many asking questions about when an agricultural operator needs a CDL.
Federal Authority over CDLs
The Federal Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act (FCMVSA) addresses driver’s licensing for commercial vehicle operators, and aims to protect public safety by establishing qualifications for those who drive large trucks and buses on public roads and highways. The federal law delegates the actual authority over CDL licensing to each individual state, but first establishes minimum federal standards that a state must meet when issuing CDLs. In regards to agriculture, the law specifically allows a state to create CDL exemptions for “operators of a farm vehicle which is controlled and operated by a farmer, including operation by employees or family members.” The recent statement from the federal government about CDLs clarified that there would not be any new minimum federal standards for agriculture or any changes to the federal delegation of agricultural exemption authority to the states. Therefore, an agricultural operator must look to the CDL laws of the state in which he or she operates.
Ohio’s CDL Exemption for Agriculture
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.” 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. Important to the exemption is the definition of “farm truck,” which is:
• A truck controlled and operated by a farmer that is used to transport:
o 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,
o 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,
o As long as the truck is not used in the operation of a motor transportation company or a private motor carrier. ORC 4506.01(O).
Note that the farm truck exemption refers specifically to a truck controlled and operated by a “farmer.” The law does not provide a definition for “farmer,” however. 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. Farm operators should be aware that a citation could be possible if an officer believes a truck operator is not a “farmer.”
The Restricted CDL for Farm-Related Service Industries
Ohio law also provides a restricted CDL for operators who service the agricultural sector on a seasonal basis. The restricted CDL applies to eligible “seasonal” operators, which includes farm retail outlets and suppliers, agri-chemical businesses, custom harvesters and livestock feeders. The law waives the requirements for CDL written and skills tests for eligible seasonal operators. The seasonal operator my operate a Class B or Class C vehicle, subject to restrictions: travel must be within 150 miles of the place of business, the seasonal period must be no more than 180 days in any twelve month period, and hazardous material transport is limited to 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel; 3,000 gallons for liquid fertilizer; and solid fertilizer only if without accompanying organic substances. To receive a restricted CDL for farm-related service, the operator must file an application and meet eligibility requirements, such as one year of driving experience, no motor vehicle violations or offenses and no license suspensions, revocations or cancellations. ORC 4506.24.
Ohio’s CDL Laws and Other States
Ohio’s CDL provisions for agriculture are valid only within the State of Ohio. The federal government allows a state to make reciprocal agreements for CDL licensing with other states, but no such agreements regarding agriculture exists between Ohio and another state. Without a reciprocal agriculture exemption, a farmer crossing state lines is engaged in “interstate” travel, which requires a CDL and raises additional federal requirements.
For information on Ohio’s CDL laws, visit the Ohio Department of Public Safety.