By Sarah Everhart
The regulatory process for driving farm vehicles in Maryland is complex and dictated by both the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and the Transportation Article of the Maryland Code. Although farmers enjoy many exemptions from vehicular laws, it is important to understand when and how these exemptions apply to avoid violations and fines.
According to the definitions in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (49 C.F.R. 390.5), a Farm Vehicle driver is a person who drives a commercial motor vehicle which is:
(a) Controlled and operated by a farmer as a private motor carrier of property;
(b) Being used to transport either: (1) Agricultural products; or farm machinery, farm supplies, or both, to or from a farm;
(c) Not being used in the operation of a for-hire motor carrier;
(d) Not carrying hazardous materials of a type or quantity which requires the commercial motor vehicle to be placarded; and
(e) Being used within 150 air-miles of the farmer’s farm.
A commercial motor vehicle is a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more and used in the furtherance of a commercial venture.
The most common violation that farm vehicle drivers make is operating their farm vehicle as a “for-hire motor carrier.” For-hire motor carrier means a person is engaged in the transportation of goods or passengers for compensation. This is a broad definition and would include any type of commercial hauling done for another farmer.
If a farm vehicle driver meets the definition outlined above, the farmer does not need a Commercial Driver License (CDL), a Driver’s Qualification file, an Hours of Service log, or a Department of Transportation (DOT) registration number, unless the farmer is driving interstate or between states. Given Maryland’s proximity to other states, it is advisable for most Maryland farmers to apply for a DOT registration number. A DOT number can be easily obtained by applying online but note that starting October 2015, a DOT number will cost $300. Importantly, farm vehicle drivers must stop at all required commercial vehicle inspection checkpoints and keep vehicles properly maintained.
What about articulated vehicles? If the gross vehicle weight rating or the gross combined weight rating exceeds 10,001 pounds and the vehicle is not “for-hire,” the farmer does not need a Commercial Driver License (CDL), a Driver’s Qualification file, a Hours of Service log, or a DOT registration number, unless the farmer is driving interstate or between states. A medical card is required for this type of vehicle if the farmer is driving interstate.
What if a farmer only intends to drive a farm vehicle within the State of Maryland? A farmer can register the farm vehicle in Maryland as either a farm vehicle, a farm truck tractor, or with a farm area tag. A Maryland farm vehicle tag should only be used for a vehicle used exclusively by the farmer on their farm operation and not used to haul farm products for another farmer. A farm area tag or a Class K Farm Area Vehicle is a motor vehicle owned by a farmer and operated only on a farm or highway within a 25-mile radius of the farm. The cost for a farm area tag is only $2.50, with no surcharge. To acquire a farm area tag, a farmer must prove farming status by filing the first page of their schedule F tax form or other approved document with the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. This is a nice bargain for the agricultural community but farmers need to be careful to observe the 25-mile radius limitation. Law enforcement is on the lookout for people abusing this benefit by driving outside of the 25-mile radius, charging folks with signing a fraudulent application for the tag, and imposing fines of up to $1,000 per violation.
This post is meant to provide a brief overview of a complex set of regulations, for individual compliance advice please consult an attorney.