A helpful Q and A on the hours of service regs and ag commodities

Putting a finer point on government regulations or providing clarity on bureaucratic language is not easy to do.

However, there are ways it can be done. The simple process of question and answer is perhaps the best approach.

Chad DeWitt, with Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Lenk Transportation Inc., recently shared with me a series of email exchanges he had in June with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration related to hours of service regulations and the agricultural commodity exemption provision. 

With Chad’s permission to reprint, here are some excerpts:

From Chad to the FMCSA:

Good afternoon, 
I am reaching out in hopes of some clarity on the new laws & regulations for driving time. 

We are a small firm that handles produce shipments from packing houses to retail markets. 

Would the exemptions apply to these shipments? Or is it more a case of field to packing sheds?
Also, another question that keeps coming up is when the “service” actually starts? An example
on what we run into, is we deal with LTL (less than truckload) orders, so it is common for our loads to have multiple pickups and multiple drops. I would like to present a scenario, and you tell me at what point the drivers hours start.
Pick up 1. In Sparta, MI – driver leaves Grand Rapids, MI at
10:30 am, arrives at packing shed in Sparta at 11:30 am. Upon arrival, shed notifies driver that product will not be ready until 2 pm. Driver waits for product. Finally is ready to leave pick up #1 at 3pm, heads over to pick up #2 in Hudsonville, MI.

Arrives at pick up # 2 @ 4pm, loaded by 5:30pm @ pick up #2. Ready to head to pick up # 3 in Benton Harbor, MI.

Arrives at shed #3 at 7:30pm, and is loaded with the product, doors close at 9pm.

Drivers 1st delivery is in Indianapolis, IN at 4am. Can he legally make this shipment?

Or is he technically out of hours before getting loaded? I do apologize for the long email, and drawn out scenario, but it seems that there is quite a bit of “propaganda” being thrown out there by drivers as well as shippers and packing houses. So I thought I would just go directly to the source and find out what the protocol actually is.

Is there an explanation to the rules and exemptions that we can direct them to, so everybody can get a clear understanding? The more simple the explanation, the better not only for our customers, but for myself as well. 
I really appreciate your time, and look forward to hearing your input!

Map of 150-mile radius around Sparta, Mich.
The red circle shows the 150 air-mile radius from Sparta, Mich., the "source" of the agricultural commodities in the scenario presented by Chad DeWitt to the FMCSA.

The following was the response from the FMCSA official:

Let see if I can help here, if not it much be good to talk with me or one of my specialists on the phone. A few key points for your scenario.

•    The points where you load can be considered a “source” if the product still meets the definition of agricultural commodity, meaning it is not processed in any way. Packaging is not processing. Also, I am assuming you don’t load any other products that are not agricultural commodities on the vehicle. If you do you lose the exception.

•    I also am assuming your driver is coming off a 10-hour break.

•    Sparta is your source in the scenario, so all transportation-related activities that occur within the 150 air-mile radius (172 or so road miles) are excepted from the hours of service. That means Grand Rapids to Sparta, the waiting and loading time in Sparta and any other work within that radius does not count toward the hours of service. 

•    Multiple pickups do not change the fact that Sparta is the source where the radius is drawn.

•    Whether you can make trip to Indianapolis at 4 AM depends on what time your driver leaves that 150-air mile radius. Upon leaving, he has 11 hours of driving available.

•    If it can be done, that is a very long day, so he and you both still have the responsibility to make sure he has adequate rest and is not too fatigued to drive safely.
I hope this is helpful. There is a summary and other information on our website, and additional materials will be added over the course of the next several days. www.fmcsa.dot.gov/ag


Here was the follow-up question from Chad:

I do apologize for my lack of understanding. But using the same scenario that I listed below. If a driver is not coming off of fresh hours, say he unloaded in Grand Rapids, and we send him on the shipment in which he has 6 hours left. Can he go make the pick ups that I have listed, and still have 6 hours left after leaving the 150-mile radius of Sparta, MI?


The FMCSA response:

If you aren’t coming off a 10-hour break you have to watch the 14-hour clock, which will start the when you leave the initial 150 air mile radius. I don’t know the distances of all of those places, but just be aware of that when thinking about your delivery in Indianapolis.



Another question from Chad to the FMCSA:

I have been spreading the information that you shared with me in regards to the rules. And a few questions that have come up have been what is considered the “Source”? A number of them have been told that their home base is the source.

Also there seems to be confusion on how to log this on the electronic logs. If they are picking up the load, and has 3 pick ups……..do they turn their ELD’s off? There are only 4 or 5 modes to choose from. 

1.    Sleeper berth

2.    Off Duty

3.    On Duty

4.    Personal use

5.    Yard Move


Which one would my driver use in my case that I presented to avoid a status of “Violated”? This issue seems to be widespread amongst drivers? They understand the essence of the rule, but they don’t seem to know how to apply it to their instruments. Trust me, I have looked at the website rules that you referred me to , and I have not come up with anything. Please help,


FMCSA response to the “source” question: 

There are three options for operating with an ELD and the Ag HOS exemption. They are described on our webpage.

The options are:

1.    Don’t log it. Then when they do they will have to reject the unassigned miles and annotate them as Ag excepted miles

2.    Log in and annotate the excepted miles accordingly

3.    Use the personal use function ad annotate as ag excepted


Noting a violation is not a requirement of the ELD spec and doesn’t necessarily mean anything. In reviewing the ELD information the officer will look at all of the information available to determine compliance, including annotations.


Chad’s response to the FMCSA clarification:

Thanks again!

 So, is the “source” that you speak of, another word for “home base”?


FMCSA response

The “source” is not necessarily home base, it is the location that the agricultural commodity is loaded, such as a grain elevator, sale barn or some intermediate loading location. From the guidance:

Determining the “source” of the agricultural commodities under § 395.1(k)(1)

Although an agricultural commodity may have several “sources”, the “source” excludes the point at which the commodity is processed to such an extent that it is no longer in its original form or does not otherwise meet the definition of an agricultural commodity in 49 CFR 395.2.

Question: How is the “source” of the agricultural commodities in § 395.1(k)(1) determined?

 Guidance: The “source” of an agricultural commodity, as the term is used in § 395.1(k)(1), is the point at which an agricultural commodity is loaded onto an unladen commercial motor vehicle. The location may be any intermediate storage or handling location away from the original source at the farm or field, provided the commodity retains its original form and is not significantly changed by any processing or packing 




TK: Thanks to Chad for sharing this exchange and giving a little more clarity to federal government guidance on hours of service and the ELD mandate relating to agricultural commodities.