Throughout the Midwest, farmers are harvesting their final crops of the season, which means more large farm trucks laden with grain are out on the roads, hauling their produce to suppliers. Here in the Deep South, the story is much the same; big rigs carrying tons of cotton and other harvests to market share the roads with other motorists.
The federal government allows states to mandate whether a commercial driver’s license (CDL) is required for drivers of farm trucks in their respective states. Not surprisingly, Alabama and other primarily agricultural states have instituted lax laws for farm vehicles in an effort to shield farmers from the burdens of strict regulatory oversight, including exempting farm-truck drivers from carrying a CDL in many cases.
Additionally, Alabama and a few others states have gone so far as to release farm-truck drivers from many federal regulations, including hours-of-service requirements and certain weight restrictions. This essentially means that farmers are entrusted to drive safely and responsibly rather than be bound by commercial driving requirements.
Of course, these exemptions raise some valid traffic-safety concerns, which Purdue University’s Ag Answers addressed in a report about farm-truck safety. Bill Field, Professor of Agricultural and Biological Engineering at Purdue, told Ag Answers that many farming truck accidents are the result of human error, with drugs, alcohol, and fatigue to blame for a significant number of farm-related crashes.
“It all starts with the driver,” Professor Fields told Ag Answers. “Even though there are certain situations where farms are exempt from requiring a commercial driver’s license, my suggestion is that farm owners require all their drivers be CDL-licensed. This helps screen drivers and also means that the owner always knows who is driving.”
Professor Fields also told Ag Answers that farm-truck drivers should be attuned to weight restrictions, which can vary by time and place. “Ignorance of the law is not an excuse” for farm trucks that are overweight, Professor Fields said.
Vehicle maintenance is equally important, and making sure trucks are in good working condition is a measure of protection for farmers, Professor Fields told Ag Answers. He recommended that farmers frequently check lights, and brakes.
“Usually, troopers don’t stop trucks because they look heavy; they will pull them over because they have lights covered with dirt or tires that look bald,” Professor Fields said. “Whenever you’re traveling, grain spills on the highway can cause other drivers to have an accident,” Field told Ag Answers. “All around, it’s important to be a good neighbor.”
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