There are good reasons for states setting up regulations for whom can operate vehicles, the type of vehicle they can operate, and when and where they are permitted to operate them. Our driver’s licenses specify what we are allowed to drive based on the exams we have taken and even state whether or not we have to wear corrective lenses to see properly. Why? Because it comes down to protecting the safety of other drivers on the road.
Most people are likely aware that truck drivers are required to take special training to obtain a license that permits them to drive trucks over a certain weight. Television ads are all over the place advertising these courses because we have a truck driver shortage in the country. But in Alabama, there is a loophole that allows some of these large vehicles to be driven by inexperienced, unlicensed drivers – and that can put us in harm’s way.
What is the intrastate farmer exemption?
Alabama has enacted intrastate farmer exemptions, which, in short, exempts tractor trailers from Federal Regulations when they are traveling up to 150 miles from a farm. Additionally, to be covered under this law you must qualify as a farm vehicle driver who drives a commercial vehicle of at lease 10,001 pounds that is:
- Controlled and operated by a farmer.
- Used to transport either agricultural products, farm machinery, farm supplies or all of these things to or from a farm.
- Not used in the operations of a common or contract carrier.
To be covered under this law, the driver must be the farmer, a family member, or a farm hand.
Drivers operating straight trucks or trucks with trailers in excess of 26,000 pounds must:
- Be 18 years of age.
- Meet the physical qualifications to operate a combination vehicle under 49 CFR § 391.67.
- Not carry hazardous materials.
- Maintain inspection, repair and maintenance of vehicles, to include driver vehicle inspection reports if the farm owns more than one commercial vehicle.
Why is the intrastate farmer exemption dangerous?
Consider that farm is a center point, and the truck can extend a route to a 150-mile radius all the way around. As long as it remains within the border of Alabama, a driver could conceivably drive a route of almost 950 miles around the state making deliveries of farm goods that need to get into the hands of customers as quickly as possible. This means long hours on the road.
Under Federal Regulations, truck drivers are required to take breaks for safety reasons. In fact, they can only drive 11 hours straight after being off work for 10 hours. This can be extended by two hours if there are adverse road conditions, which northern Alabama does experience, however where farmers are concerned, the hours-of-service requirements are voided. This means they have no limitations.
The reason the Federal Regulations exist for truck drivers is that these oversized vehicles pose an excessive risk to smaller vehicles on the road due to their size exceeding 26,000 pounds combined with personal injury accident data collected over the years such as:
- Truck driver fatigue
- Truck driver distraction or inattention
- Lack of truck maintenance to save money
- Truck drivers driving recklessly or speeding to make delivery deadlines
- Impaired driving
- Driver panic or unfamiliar with roadway
Protecting yourself from farm trucks in Alabama
Many farms in Alabama are smaller family farms that are likely carrying less insurance than they should be when involving large trucks in their operations. General farm and ranch insurance policies do not even cover accidents that occur off the farm. Farmers would likely need an add-on policy to cover a truck accident and that is assuming the insurance company does not find an exclusion somewhere in the policy to avoid payment should you become seriously injured.
The truth is the odds of an accident happening are pretty good and so are the odds of the at-fault farmer being underinsured. It is probably a good time to take a look at your own auto insurance policy to see if you should increase your underinsured motorist coverage, in case you ever meet up with one of these big rigs on an already rocky Alabama roadway.
You have no control over who is on the road with you whether laws put them there or not. All you can do is try to protect yourself as best you can by arming yourself with information to help you be more alert to potential dangers that exist. If you encounter one of these unskilled drivers and your lives and vehicles collide, you are going to need legal help to maneuver through insurance claims and the negotiation and settlement process to be sure you are treated fairly even by your own insurance company.
If you were hurt in an accident with a farm truck, you should seek experienced legal guidance. At Martin & Helms, we know the potential pitfalls you face when making a claim. To learn more about our services, or to schedule a free consultation at one of our offices in Huntsville or Decatur, please call 256.539.1990 or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact form to tell us your story. Proudly serving Madison, Athens, and all of North Alabama.