By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Some days Ryan Meyer feels more like a trucker than a farmer.
Hours in the cab of the truck increase for Meyer and other area farmers "during the fall when we're bringing in the harvest and throughout the year if you have grain stored on hand," the Liberty farmer said.
That makes staying up to date on trucking regulations more important.
Area farmers got some help understanding the latest rule changes Wednesday at a crop insurance and truck regulations regional seminar in Quincy.
"They usually don't send something that this has changed. It's your duty to find out if something changed," Meyer said. "Laws change daily just about. You need to be aware of them and try to obey the best you can."
Changes in federal truck regulations may leave farmers quieter and more aware of safety records on the road.
Legislation already in place under federal rules, and applicable under state law effective Jan. 1, prohibits the use of handheld mobile phones by truckers, including farmers.
"You can still use voice-activated, or you can use a mobile phone that allows you to place or answer a call with the touch of a single button, but handheld mode is off limits," said Kevin Rund, Illinois Farm Bureau's senior director of local government and a featured speaker at the seminar.
Also new is a database tracking the safety record of motor carriers tied to the Compliance, Safety, Accountability initiative under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
Safety and Fitness Electronic Records, or SAFER, allows both the trucking industry and the public to check on safety records of individual carriers. Rund said if farmers have a U.S. DOT (Department of Transportation) number, they have a safety rating."
More changes for farmers will come through MAP-21, or Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, the major surface transportation package approved last summer by Congress.
"The MAP-21 exemptions when implemented will hands down be the most significant change for farmers," Rund said. "Within that legislation is language that would exempt farmers from a number of trucking regulations. There are some significant exemptions, such as drug and alcohol testing requirements and hours of service limitation."
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently took the first step toward implementing the rules approved last summer by publishing a call for comment on what should be included in program rules.
"The exemptions have no practical effect in Illinois until the federal government establishes its own set of rules and regulations to implement them. The state has to adopt rules/regulations for enforcement," Rund said. "It could be six months, or it could be three years until you see it take effect in Illinois."
Rund also touched on "interstate" versus "intrastate" transport, U.S. DOT number registration and driver qualifications including commercial driver's licenses, medical cards and drug/alcohol testing.
"I try to provide some information to help farmers sort out for themselves which things apply to them and under what circumstances," Rund said. "There are certain exemptions available to farmers under certain circumstances."
Farmers who operate just straight trucks, for example, may be exempt from DOT physical requirements. Farmers with combination trucks or semis are not exempt in most cases, but it varies by size of vehicle and distance traveling.