South Carolina state legislators say they are hoping to ease federal regulations that have many farmers complaining their pickups will be treated as if they were large semi-trucks.
Commercial vehicles weighing more than 10,000 pounds may soon have to follow new regulations that require the name of their business and an identification number on the vehicle. It would also require the driver to carry a medical card certifying them as “physically qualified” to drive.
The Motor Carrier Safety Improvement Act first laid out those requirements in 1999 as a way to track unsafe cargo-carrying truck companies. But state officials say enforcing it was not practical until the U.S. Department of Transportation created a database to track the identification numbers in October 2010.
However, many rural state legislators say the 10,000 pound requirement is much too low and unfair to small-scale farmers. Rep. David Hiott (R-Pickens) says a large pickup truck pulling a loaded trailer would fall under the requirements.
“It’s a little bit far-reaching in my opinion to ask the local guy who’s just driving maybe 30 miles one way just to sell his cattle twice a year to get a health card,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. He said violators, even those who weren’t aware of the new rules, risked thousands of dollars in fines.
Legislators are looking at an option under the law that allows a state to instead raise the limit to 26,000 pounds if it wants (any vehicle above 26,000 pounds requires a commercial driver’s license to operate). Hiott wants to take that alternative.
The South Carolina House passed a bill last week that would do just that. Although the bill eventually passed unanimously, many representatives made it clear they were not happy about putting new burdens on businesses– or that the State Transport Police had only begun enforcing twelve-year-old regulations in the past year.
“This is going to be a huge issue,” said Rep. Mac Toole (R-West Columbia), “Tens of thousands of vehicles will have to be registered. And there’ll be a whole field of opportunity for tickets to be written.”
Transport Police officials say the business names and identification numbers are necessary to help monitor the safety records of companies that haul freight across the country. They say they’re obligated to follow the 10,000-lb minimum unless lawmakers change it.
Hiott said the bill that passed last week was a compromise between legislators, the SC Farm Bureau, the Transport Police, and federal officials. He said it was a nearly six-month process as state officials stayed in constant contact with federal transportation regulators.
“Every time we came up with what we wanted… we had to allow them to say, ‘yeah we can live with that,'” Hiott said.
Transport Police administrators said they had agreed to a moratorium on tickets so the General Assembly could craft the legislation. The bill also includes a requirement that officers only give warnings for violations over the first 12 months– no fines.
“We’re committed to safety, of course,” said Capt. Bruce Bailey of the Transport Police, “But we’re trying to be reasonable in how we enforce these regulations.”
Although he did not like creating the new requirements, Hiott said not setting the limit at 26,000 pounds would affect “a whole lot more” drivers.
The bill now heads to a Senate committee.