A CDL to drive a tractor? Another burdensome regulation looms over ag

As the amount of land designated for agricultural use decreases and concrete begins to grow in place of crops, the disconnect between agriculture and the urban population continues to grow at an exponential rate. A new law policy proposed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is another reminder of how distant our government has become with rural America.

The proposal from USDOT would force those who operate any farm machinery, i.e. tractors and combines, to have a Commercial Drivers License (CDL). This potential regulation poses numerous issues to those who live and work on farms. Not only does it impose unnecessary fees and constraints on farmers, but it would also impede youth from operating a tractor and contributing to the family farm.

Like most kids who grew up on farms, I learned to drive a tractor before I learned how to drive a vehicle. I learned how to safely maneuver a tractor around the farm, pull implements, and operate the front-end loader. Not only did it teach me to be a functional contributor to the farming operation, but it always helped me become a responsible operator of a motor vehicle when I turned 16 – even though I was driving a truck around the farm well before that age. Safety always came first. Quite honestly, I think kids who grew up driving tractors are much better and more responsible operators of motor vehicles than most people on the roadways who have driver’s licenses!

If a CDL is required to drive a tractor –big or small– youth in agriculture will be robbed of the chance to do what I did growing up, because in order to be eligible for a CDL you have to be at least 18 years of age.

While considering the new law, officials should also keep in mind farm equipment is typically only driven in rural America where most have either driven a tractor or are familiar with them. Most equipment travels minimally on public roadways and has only one occupant making it seemingly pointless for CDLs to be required because it’s drastically different from driving something like a semi.

It seems the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is most interested in exploring the distinction between interstate and intrastate commerce and whether operations of commercial motor vehicles within the boundaries of a single state are subject to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations. The administration will also look at the factors the states are using in deciding whether farm vehicle drivers transporting agricultural commodities, farm supplies and equipment as part of a crop share agreement are subject to CDL regulations, as well if off-road farm equipment or implements of husbandry operated on public roads for limited distances are considered commercial motor vehicles.

Unfortunately, the window for commenting closed Aug. 1. However, NSP encourages you to call your elected officials and make your voice heard on this issue.

USDOT welcomed comments while claiming that “in many ways, agriculture is the backbone of our economy – feeding hundreds of millions of Americans and billions more around the world. As the largest user of freight transportation in the nation, the agricultural industry is also one of USDOT’s most important constituents.”

USDOT, American farmers are under enough regulation as it is, and another burden from the federal government will make it increasingly harder to stay in business of feeding and fueling the world.

NSP External Affairs Director Lindsay Kennedy and her twin sister Natalie frequently joined their dad in the tractor cab on their family farm in Arkansas. Photo taken in 1986.