Last week, the Department of Transportation (DOT) announced relief from hours of service (HOS) requirements and federal truck weight regulations in states where the governor has declared a drought emergency.

Those able to receive the waiver include commercial truck drivers delivering supplies to farmers and ranchers.  The DOT announcement also mentions that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will be issuing guidance prior to Oct. 1, clarifying the applicability of the agricultural HOS exemption. The Agricultural Retailers Association is keeping track of the situation, providing insight to the DOT and will provide comments and clarification to the ag industry and its members at the time of any announcement.

In its most recent announcement, the DOT provided the following information: “If an emergency has been declared in a state, certain federal rules regulating large truck and bus operations for activities associated with providing emergency relief can be waived, such as hours of service (HOS) requirements. DOT can process an HOS waiver request in 7-14 days. If an emergency is declared by the governor or appropriate official, the state automatically gets HOS relief; no application is needed. This authority can put more commercial drivers behind the wheel—driving large trucks needed to assist the farmers and ranchers in need.

“The transportation bill President Obama signed in July provides a new authority for states to issue special permits for overweight vehicles and loads that can easily be dismantled or divided in an emergency (Section 1511 of MAP-21). The legislation makes the new special permits available beginning October 1, 2012.

“The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is working to quickly develop guidance for states to support their permitting programs, and the way in which ‘relief supplies’ are defined may provide states with a new tool to use for hauling heavy loads of grain, livestock, etc. for drought relief. Guidance will be made publicly available for review and comment soon.

“The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will also issue guidance in the days prior to the Oct. 1 effective date, clarifying the applicability of the exemption to the hours of service regulations for farmers during planting and harvesting periods. This exemption will apply to any driver transporting agricultural commodities and/or farm supplies for agricultural purposes to and from certain locations within a 150 air-mile radius.”