Farmers in the Hoosier state are exempt from a number of federal trucking regulations.
Agriculture contributes an estimated $31.2 billion to the state’s economy. By the numbers, Indiana is the 10th largest farming state in the nation with 56,649 farming operations and just over 94,000 farmers, with 96 percent of farms in the state being family-owned or operated.
However, as the saying goes within the industry, “agriculture is more than just cows, sows, and plows.” With transportation being such a critical component of a successful farming operation, the fact that farmers are exempt from a number of reasonable safety practices and regulatory guidelines is a cause for concern among those who work in the industry.
Mike Templeton is an independent transportation consultant who works with farmers and other companies to make sure they follow basic safety practices. Templeton is a former Indiana State Police trooper of nearly 35 years who has seen enough fatal accidents to reinforce his sense of urgency on the matter. He says that regular inspections are an integral part of transportation safety.
“One accident can be devastating for you the farmer, for the farm itself and of course for the people involved in the accident,” says Templeton. “I push very strongly to make sure farmers keep their trucks in line.”
Covered farm vehicles
The Code of Federal Regulations defines a farmer as a “private carrier” — someone who transports only their goods and is not for hire.
Indiana law gives a broad exemption from many federal trucking regulations for vehicles that are classified as covered farm vehicles (CFV).
Any vehicle that is used to transport agricultural commodities, livestock, machinery or supplies to and from a farm can be classified as a CFV. The vehicle must be operated by the owner of the farm, a family member or an employee.
Rented equipment can also fall under the CFV umbrella as long as there is a lease agreement showing the vehicle will be used on the farm.
Within the state of Indiana (or out of state but within 150 miles of the farm), a farm truck or CFV, hauling a farmer’s own items, can be operated by anyone with a driver’s license, doesn’t need a DOT number and is exempt from annual inspection criteria as well as repair and maintenance regulations that commercial vehicles must adhere to. The driver of a CFV is not required to have a commercial driver’s license (CDL) and is not required to have a medical card or regular physical examinations, as CDL drivers must do every two years.
“If lawmakers say farmers don’t have to have their trucks inspected or have CDLs, there are a number of them that will choose not to do anything at all,” says Templeton. “It’s just human nature.”
Farmers in the state also have no length, width or height restrictions, unless they are traveling on an interstate.
Operators of all semis in Indiana have to abide by the state’s weight restrictions. To travel legally, the maximum gross weight one can carry is 80,000 pounds. The state does, however, allow farmers a 10-percent commodity “cushion,” so long as they are long enough to support it (51 feet from the front steer axle to the last rear axle of the trailer). With the extra 10-percent cushion, farmers can carry a maximum of 88,000 pounds compared to the 80,000 maximum for all other commercial haulers.
However, Templeton warns that while farmers are exempt from a number of federal regulations, they aren’t exempt from liability.
“I recommend that farmers take these exemptions lightly,” advised Templeton. “You may be exempt from the regulations, but you’re still liable should an accident happen because of your faulty brakes, suspension, lights, tires, etc.”
Fred Whitford, director of pesticide programs for Purdue Extension, explained that should a farmer be at fault in an accident where someone is killed, they could potentially lose their farm.
“When you have someone who is killed, no matter who is at fault, it’s sad,” explained Whitford. “If the farmer is at fault, depending on how their farm is set up, they could actually lose their farm to this. Many of these deaths [result in civil suits] around the $6 million range. These are sizable verdicts being delivered.”
If criminal charges are filed, it could also lead to jail time.
The flip side, according to Whitford, is that even if the other person is at fault in an accident, they can still potentially blame the farmer for negligence for not having proper brakes, lights, etc.
Whitford was blunt in his response to farmers who don’t annually inspect their trucks.
“It makes no sense for a farmer not to do an annual inspection,” he said. “It’s absolutely nuts — that’s one of the key things that will be asked for in an accident. Not only should farmers have their trucks inspected regularly, they need to keep a maintenance log of the work being done.”
Many farmers haul their own crops and also haul as commercial truckers. Those truckers, whether farmers or not, need a CDL to drive for hire.
There are steep consequences for violating CDL requirements, including being put out of service and paying a federal civil penalty of up to $5,000 plus state fines.
Whitford says there are three different types of farmers. The first is a farmer that plays by the rules.
“He hauls his stuff on a farm plate and is covered by farm insurance,” explained Whitford.
The second farmer operates as a farmer, but also hauls commercially.
“He plays by the rules as well — both as a farmer and commercially — and has the appropriate licensing and insurance,” he said.
The third type of farmer both farms and operates commercially, but doesn’t have a CDL or the proper insurance.
“Those individuals who don’t play by the rules hurt us a lot,” Whitford said. “It’s those kinds of folks that can cause us to lose all of the exemptions that farmers have right now. Farmers are loaded down with exemptions that regular truckers don’t get. Truckers get pretty upset with those groups of farmers.”
Daniel Gwin is a grain farmer in Linden who believes that risk management is an important aspect of a farming operation. He has all of his trucks in a separate limited liability company (LLC).
“We do more than what the regulations require,” said Gwin. “We have our trucks’ inspections and major systems repairs done by a licensed garage.”
When his truckers were hauling grain long distances and across the state line (no longer part of what they do), Gwin required all of his drivers to have a CDL. Since they only haul locally now, he says they do hire drivers without CDLs but require them to have health cards and meet other requirements.
Gwin says he was in the process of setting up the LLC when they had a major truck accident.
“Thankfully there were only minor injuries to our driver and others involved, but it was a real wake up call to us to put our risk management plans in high gear.”
License double standard
According to the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, all drivers of commercial motor vehicles must have a CDL. Only farmers, firefighters, military personnel and drivers of recreational vehicles are exempt.
Applying for one can be a lengthy and costly process. Indiana CDL requirements are stricter than any other Indiana driver’s license and are based on stringent Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) regulations.
In order to obtain one in the state, an individual must have a valid Indiana operator’s license and Social Security number, pass a DOT physical examination initially and every two years after (hearing, vision, blood pressure and urinalysis), pass a driving skills test in a vehicle comparable to the one the driver intends to operate, obtain a CDL learner’s permit and pass one or more written knowledge exams. After receiving a CDL, it needs to be renewed every four years.
While a person can study and test for a CDL on their own, many commercial hauling businesses, because of insurance and policy reasons, will require new drivers to have attended and graduated from an accredited school providing at least 160 hours of instruction time. This can add up to thousands of dollars in extra overhead cost.
A CDL applicant must also submit a request to the Indiana State Police to verify whether or not they have been involved in any crashes. Should a CDL driver be involved in a serious traffic violation or another major offense, FMCSA regulations are in place that can potentially disqualify a CDL driver, temporarily or permanently.
If a driver’s CDL has been expired or been disqualified, canceled, revoked, invalidated or voluntarily surrendered for more than one year, the holder must pass all knowledge and skills exams again prior to issuance of a new CDL.
Private Indiana farm equipment operators, as long as they are operating within the state, are exempt from all of the above.
That means that two identical semis, hauling similar weights of cargo and travelling on the same road in Indiana, could have two very different drivers: one with a CDL who has passed extensive skills and written tests and is subject to regular physical and knowledge exams, and one operating a CFV who may have none of this training or oversight.
“These are exemptions by state law and by federal law — they can change from one general assembly and one congress to the next,” Whitford said. “It all depends on who has the stronger lobbying effort.”
Serious traffic accidents can lead to insurance claims and lawsuits for those involved. When permanent injuries or deaths occur, farmers could face millions in liability exposure if found negligent. This exposure puts them — and all of their farm’s assets — at risk.
Brian Drummy has been a lawyer with Bunger and Robertson for the past 11 years. Drummy’s practice specializes in representing people and families in personal injury matters.
“These exemptions do not make farmers immune to liability,” he said.
He says that everyone — not just farmers — has a duty to maintain his or her vehicle in a safe operating condition.
“We all have a duty as drivers — whether we’re farmers or whether it’s me or you — to operate our vehicles in a safe and prudent manner,” Drummy said. “So just because you don’t have to have your truck inspected every year, or work on your brakes every year, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.”
Drummy said he understands that certain farming vehicles may only be used occasionally, but all things mechanical still require regular upkeep.
“It’s a tough situation — you’ve got a grain truck you may only use once a year and you don’t want to put a bunch of money into something that’s just going to sit there most of the year,” Drummy said. “But at the same time, if I go to hit the brakes and they don’t work and I kill somebody, it was pretty important to that person’s family that I have my brakes in good working order.”
If a driver breaches one of their common law duties, he or she may be found to be negligent.
“Let’s say I’ve never changed my tires and they’re worn bald, and then I hydroplane across the center line and kill somebody – I’m negligent in that scenario – you can’t drive around with bald tires,” Drummy said.
According to Drummy, safety has to be the number one concern when it comes to transportation.
“Whether or not you have to have your brakes inspected, the overall goal should be to keep everybody safe,” Drummy said. “The farmer may not have an obligation to have his truck inspected, but if something bad happens, they should know that someone like me may be investigating their maintenance practices and procedures.”
Templeton and Whitford both regularly speak at field days and consult with individual farmers on which regulations they should follow and which ones they are exempt from.
Additionally, Templeton, Whitford, Gwin and Drummy all contributed to Purdue Extension’s “A Farmer’s Guide to Indiana Transportation Regulations.”
All publications are available from the Purdue Extension Education Store at www.edustore.purdue.edu
Reach Quentin Blount at email@example.com or 574-732-5130.
Added requirements and costs for commercial truckers
Cost of obtaining a CDL
• Pass a DOT physical examination ($90-$113)
• Obtain a learner's permit ($16)
• Pass a skills test ($100 for own vehicle; $175 to use test facility's vehicle)
• CDL fee ($30)
• Attend trucking school ($3,000-$7,000), required by most commercial trucking companies
Equipment requirements for commercial vehicles
• A fire extinguisher
• Spare fuses
• Warning devices for stopped vehicles or three bidirectional emergency reflected triangles
Equipment to be spot checked before each trip
The Indiana Dept. of Revenue’s “Commercial Motor Vehicle Guidebook” says that every bus, truck, truck tractor and vehicle driven in a tow-away operation greater than 10,000 lbs. must be spot-checked before each trip. This self-inspection includes:
• Service brakes
• Parking brake
• Steering mechanism
• Lighting devices and reflectors
• Windshield wipers
• Rear-vision mirror(s)
• Coupling devices
• Wheels and rims
• Emergency equipment
List of documents CDL drivers must carry
• Driver's license
• Medical card
• Vehicle registration (trailer registration if applicable)
• Proof of insurance (hard copy of insurance information)
• Annual inspection(s) for the truck and trailer (either a paper copy or a legible sticker)
• Indiana Fuel Tax Card (copy), Indiana Fuel Tax decal (placed on driver's side of cab)
• Bill of lading for a load (material ticket)
• Driver's logs (individuals operating trucks hauling intrastate for the construction industry are exempt from maintaining logs in Indiana)
• Secured fire extinguisher and safety devices (three triangles)
• Permitted oversize loads must carry their permit with them either on their phone or a hard copy