Ever-changing and confusing vehicle regulations will impact the way local farmers do the most basic of tasks and will force a mountain of unnecessary paperwork, local officials say.
The changes, in the works for more than a year, came from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration after an audit showed Pennsylvania was out of compliance in regard to agriculture vehicles.
Some of the regulations will limit the number of hours of service allowed in a truck each day, the age of drivers operating a truck or combination of truck and other equipment weighing more than 17,000 pounds, additional logging of information and the licensing and registration of some vehicles.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
John Zimmerman of Kulp Dairy Farm drives a feed truck on Millerstown Road near Martinsburg. Farmers are worried about new federal vehicle rules.
"It's going to have a major impact on how agriculture functions," Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Regional Organizational Director Joe Diamond said. "It definitely will not be a benefit for agriculture."
Blair County Farm Bureau President Gary Long said the regulations will require a bigger paper trail for farmers to worry about, especially when it comes to logging the number of hours they are at work or in their truck.
"Most farmers, they get out of bed and start work. They don't have a clock they're punching in and out of," Long said.
Drivers should slow down and use caution when passing farm vehicles. Motorists should not pass near curves or hills that may block the view of oncoming vehicles.
Some farm vehicles require the driver to move to the right to make a wide left turn. Motorists should not assume a farm vehicle moving to the right is going to turn right or pull over.
For more information on Rural Roads Safety Week, April 18 to 24, call Blair County Farm Bureau President Gary Long at 684-5894.
"It's going to be a problem. With agriculture, you're living your business. It's going to be real confusing to be able to document that and be able to stand behind it."
Because of the logging requirements and the fact that anyone younger than age 18 can't operate those heavier trucks, some farmers may have to hire additional help, Long said.
"It's not a pretty picture for the farmers that are strapped financially," he said.
A major issue, Long said, is getting farmers educated on what vehicles will require a farm-exempt sticker versus farm plates and state plates and what paperwork needs to go along with each.
"No one has the answers yet," Long said. "The major concern I have is that as of the [passing of the regulations] the trucks are going to go out on the highway and the owner of the truck isn't going to know the paperwork he has to have. No one really knows what we need yet. The problem I'm looking at is that when we are involved in an accident, somebody's going to have to make a ruling and that's when the farmers are going to get the short end of the stick."
The FMCSA recently stated that exempting farm vehicles from the vehicle regulation updates would cost the state $28 million in annual federal aid and that the state would be in violation of federal requirements.
State and federal legislators are contemplating a House bill that would limit the regulations to vehicles 26,000 pounds and up.
"This broad exclusion of all farming vehicles and drivers of farm vehicles from Pennsylvania's intrastate regulations undermines the uniformity Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program was enacted to ensure and would have a significant and negative impact on highway safety," Administrator Anne S. Ferro said, adding that the exclusion of farm vehicles would make the state ineligible for MCSAP funds.
Marty Yahner of Patton said the regulations will be detrimental and complicated for farmers.
Yahner's 16-year-old son will not be able to drive the 12 pickup and dump trucks on his property or the trailers, hay wagons and other equipment on their farm if the regulations are passed.
"It's a solution looking for a problem," Yahner said. "There is no safety problem. Our safety record is good in this state."
Yahner said the regulations could force farmers to become lawbreakers in order to get their jobs done.
"It's just going to make a paperwork headache for farmers to try to comply," he said.
Yahner said it's important for farmers to get educated and then appeal to legislators in an attempt to change the regulations.
"It's really going to be a hindrance," he said. "It's tough enough making a living in agriculture."
Mirror Staff Writer Wendy Zook is at 946-7520.