Category Archives: Roadway Laws

Ohio’s CDL Provisions for Agriculture

Do you need a CDL for your farm operations?

Like many other areas of law, driver’s license regulations for agricultural situations have unique provisions and exemptions.  Recent rumors had the agricultural community concerned about possible changes in the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) requirements for agriculture.   While the U.S. Department of Transportation has clarified that CDL provisions for agriculture will not change at the federal level, the rumors had many asking questions about when an agricultural operator needs a CDL.

Federal Authority over CDLs

The Federal Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act (FCMVSA) addresses driver’s licensing for commercial vehicle operators, and aims to protect public safety by establishing qualifications for those who drive large trucks and buses on public roads and highways.  The federal law delegates the actual authority over CDL licensing to each individual state, but first establishes minimum federal standards that a state must meet when issuing CDLs.  In regards to agriculture, the law specifically allows a state to create CDL exemptions for “operators of a farm vehicle which is controlled and operated by a farmer, including operation by employees or family members.”    The recent statement from the federal government about CDLs clarified that there would not be any new minimum federal standards for agriculture or any changes to the federal delegation of agricultural exemption authority to the states.  Therefore, an agricultural operator must look to the CDL laws of the state in which he or she operates.

Ohio’s CDL Exemption for Agriculture

Ohio law establishes a “farm truck operator exemption” in Ohio Revised Code 4506.03(B)(1).  This provision states that Ohio’s CDL requirements do not apply “to any qualified person when engaged in the operation of a farm truck.”   The farm truck exemption is designed to address the situation where a farmer trucks goods back and forth from the farm, but not for long distances.  Important to the exemption is the definition of “farm truck,” which is:

  • A truck controlled and operated by a farmer that is used to transport:
    • Products of the farm either to or from the farm, for a distance of not more than 150 miles, including livestock, livestock products, poultry, poultry products and floricultural and horticultural products,
    • Supplies to the farm, from a distance of not more than 150 miles, including tile, fence, and every other thing or commodity used in agricultural, floricultural,horticultural, livestock, and poultry production, and livestock, poultry, and other animals and things used for breeding, feeding, or other purposes connected with the operation of the farm,
    • As long as the truck is not used in the operation of a motor transportation company or a private motor carrier.  ORC 4506.01(O).

Note that the farm truck exemption refers specifically to a truck controlled and operated by a “farmer.” The law does not provide a definition for “farmer,” however.  This raises questions about who the law covers:  are farm family members and employees included? To date, there are not any published court opinions that lend clarity to the issue.  Farm operators should be aware that a citation could be possible if an officer believes a truck operator is not a “farmer.”

The Restricted CDL for Farm-Related Service Industries

Ohio law also provides a restricted CDL for operators who service the agricultural sector on a seasonal basis.  The restricted CDL applies to eligible “seasonal” operators, which includes farm retail outlets and suppliers, agri-chemical businesses, custom harvesters and livestock feeders.  The law waives the requirements for CDL written and skills tests for eligible seasonal operators.  The seasonal operator my operate a Class B or Class C vehicle, subject to restrictions:  travel must be within 150 miles of the place of business, the seasonal period must be no more than 180 days in any twelve month period, and hazardous material transport is  limited to 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel; 3,000 gallons for liquid fertilizer; and solid fertilizer only if without accompanying organic substances.  To receive a restricted CDL for farm-related
service, the operator must file an application and meet eligibility requirements, such as one year of driving experience, no motor vehicle
violations or offenses and no license suspensions, revocations or cancellations.  ORC 4506.24.

Ohio’s CDL Laws and Other States

Ohio’s CDL provisions for agriculture are valid only within the State of Ohio.  The federal government allows a state to make reciprocal agreements for CDL licensing with other states, but no such agreements regarding agriculture exists between Ohio and another state.   Without a reciprocal agreement on agricultural exemptions, an operator who crosses state lines is engaging in “interstate” travel, which requires a CDL and raises additional federal requirements.

For information on Ohio’s CDL laws, visit the Ohio Department of Public Safety.

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Deputy Secretary dispels rumor of CDL requirement for farm equipment

We’ve heard a number of questions and rumors about the federal government planning to require that operators of farm equipment obtain a CDL (Commercial Driver’s License).  Brownfield has just reported on a statement issued at the Ohio State Fair today by a U.S. Department of Transportation official.  According to the news source, US DOT Deputy Secretary John Porcari clarified that the federal agency is not considering any such requirement for farm equipment operators. 

“Let me say this as bluntly as I can to the agricultural community, there is no new regulation coming down the pike requiring commercial driver’s licenses for operators of farm equipment,” said Porcari.

 Go to Brownfield Ag News for the full story.

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Under Ohio roadway law, what is a livestock trailer?

Appellate Court decides that a livestock trailer is “farm machinery”  under Ohio law

Why does it matter?  A “motor vehicle” must display a license plate according to Ohio Revised Code Section 4503.21(A), but “farm machinery” is exempt from the requirement.  

When a farmer pulling a trailer loaded with cattle in Wayne County did not have a license plate on the trailer, a state trooper cited him for violating ORC 4503.21(A).  The farmer argued that the trailer did not require a license plate because it was  exempt as “farm machinery.”   The municipal court judge disagreed because the trailer fits within the definition of “motor vehicle.”  The court found the farmer guilty of a minor misdemeanor.   But a later opinion issued by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the judge’s decision and held that the livestock trailer is “farm machinery” that is exempt from Ohio’s license plate requirements.

Confusing?  As with many Ohio laws relating to agriculture, the statute itself is likely responsible for the confusion. The license plate law states in Ohio Revised Code Section 4503.21 that:

  • “(A) No person who is the owner or operator of a motor vehicle shall fail to display in plain view on the front and rear of the motor vehicle the distinctive number and registration mark . . . except that . . . the owner or operator of a motorcycle, motorized bicycle, manufactured home, mobile home, trailer, or semitrailer shall display on the rear only. . .” [emphasis added]

In conclusion, a “trailer” must have a rear license plate.  The law defines a “trailer” in Ohio Revised Code Section 4501(M), which includes, among other things:

  • ” . . . a vehicle used to transport agricultural produce or agricultural production materials between a local place of storage or supply and the farm when drawn or towed on a public road or highway at a speed greater than twenty-five miles per hour . . .”

And so it appears that a trailer transporting livestock to a sale in Wayne County should have displayed a rear license plate.    Not so, said the court, because the law also states in the definition of “motor vehicle” that the definition does not include “farm machinery.”  If a trailer transporting livestock fits within the definition of “farm machinery,” then it is not a motor vehicle that requires a license plate, the court reasoned.  Which brings us to the definition of “farm machinery” in ORC 4503.01(U); that definition begins:

  • “ ‘Farm machinery’ means all machines and tools that are used in the production, harvesting, and care of farm products, and includes trailers that are used to transport agricultural produce or agricultural production materials between a local place of storage or supply and the farm . . . [emphasis added] 

Hence, the confusion–two similar references to trailers used for agricultural purposes, but with different outcomes.   The appellate focused on the “farm machinery” definition to determine the outcome of the case, and stated:

  • “We conclude that the cattle Mr. Besancon was hauling were “agricultural produce” under Section 4501.01(U) because they were the progeny of livestock animals. We further conclude that the auction house is a “place of . . . supply” under that section because it is a location at which goods are offered for sale at various prices. A magistrate found that Mr. Besancon was using the livestock trailer to transport cattle to an auction house. Mr. Besancon, therefore, was using it to transport agricultural produce between a local place of supply and his farm. Accordingly, it was farm machinery under Section 4501.01(U).”

The impact of the Ninth District court’s decision could extend beyond the license plate law.  Many other highway and traffic laws include mention of “farm machinery” and utilize the same definition for “farm machinery” found in ORC 4501.01(U).  The Besancon case provides other courts, especially those in northeast Ohio’s ninth appellate district, a basis for sorting through the muddled treatment of agriculture in Ohio roadway laws.

See State v. Besancon, 2010-Ohio-2147, here.

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