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Farmers Get Welcome Relief From DOT Rules

It may not take a Philadelphia lawyer to decipher, but a new state law covering exemptions for agricultural vehicles on public roads has confused farmers trying to understand its meaning.

As a result, five meetings are scheduled around Alabama in the coming weeks to discuss the law and how it might affect farmers who rely on their pickups and trailers to take goods to market.

The bill, signed into law by Gov. Bob Riley in May, involves exemptions and exceptions related to revised Federal Motor Carrier regulations.

Exempted are all agricultural vehicles operating within 150 air miles of the farmer's headquarters with the following exceptions:

 Drivers operating more than one combination vehicle -- truck and trailer -- exceeding 26,001 pounds are required to be at least 18 years of age and have a medical card. Vehicle maintenance inspection records must be maintained on combination vehicles of more than 26,001 pounds.

 Commercial driver's license and Department of Transportation registration and door markings aren't required for farm-owned vehicles.

 In addition, hours-of-service rules for drivers will not be applied to drivers transporting agricultural or farm supplies at any time during the year.

Get that? Well, you're probably not alone in trying to figure out the nuances of the new law.

"It can be confusing, but I think we've worked out a solution on its meaning and how it affects our farmers," said state Commissioner of Agriculture Ron Sparks.

The bottom line centers on regulatory differences between farm and commercial vehicles.

Laws for trucking companies are much more stringent, and Alabama farmers were concerned that they might have to abide by all or some of those regulations. Farmers complained those federal motor carrier laws on the books since 1989 were unfair.

"Then, with the stroke of a pen, a decision was made in Alabama to enforce those requirements," Sparks said. "That's why we've worked so hard to make these changes."

The reason? Money, of course.

Sparks said the Department of Public Safety was notified that if it didn't begin to enforce specific provisions of the Motor Carrier Law, it stood to lose about $3 million a year in federal funding -- money used to buy trooper vehicles and cover other items.

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