A Disaster Looking For A Place To Happen

Just the other day, I heard that the federal government, specifically officials at the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, are proposing that all farmers and horsemen must have a commercial driver?s license (CDL) to drive a vehicle pulling a trailer. it’s a ludicrous idea. FMCSA officials originally scheduled a public comment period for May, but senators from more than a dozen states got that extended through Aug. 1. Unfortunately, that means it’s too late to ?officially? comment, but I’m going to comment here anyway and hope that it will motivate a few of you to contact your legislators. The proposal appears to be primarily aimed at farmers, mostly Midwestern farmers, who use various sizes of trailers to haul various grains to their nearest grain elevator or to haul farming equipment to another field. Federal officials apparently believe that farmers lumbering along with these loads need to be subject to the same regulations as the long-haul commercial truckers zooming down the interstate. The regulations have apparently been written to include people hauling livestock (including horses) in trailers more than 16 feet long. The proposal revolves around classifying grain and livestock as interstate commerce, which is the reason the federal government can regulate truck drivers, since driver?s licenses are actually the states? responsibility. There are several problems with this proposal, which I’m sure some bean counter thinks is a brilliant new governmental revenue source. One is that the next semi-logical regulation step would be to require anyone pulling any kind of a trailer (a smaller horse trailer, a boat trailer, a utility trailer or an RV) to have a CDL. Such a requirement would directly affect me and thousands of other horse people. I have a four-horse trailer with full living quarters, making it an RV, so I don’t need a CDL. I have doubts that I could get a CDL, so how would I haul our horses to events 250 and 500 miles away’ I couldn?t possibly pay someone with a CDL to do it. So what would I do’ Try to sell that trailer and get a smaller one’ I also have a two-horse trailer with a dressing room, and I’ll bet it’s just over 16 feet long. So would I have to close the business’ It seems counter-productive to close businesses in our economic situation. If tens of thousands of other horse people and RV drivers stopped driving our big trailers, the result is a serious economic impact. It would mean we’d spend far less in various over-the road costs, the most obvious being gas or fuel and other supplies at hundreds of travel plazas across the country. There would also be lower toll revenues on bridges and tollways, decreased RV and truck sales and decreased insurance premiums, and the list goes on. The German miser in me thinks, ?Wow, what a great way to cut my expenses,? but it’s not at all that simple. Part of the reasoning for this misguided proposal is supposedly safety concerns?thinking that requiring the same license as interstate truckers would make the roads safer. Horse hockey. I watch the San Francisco Bay Area weather and traffic each morning, and they regularly report on tractor-trailer and bus accidents that clog up the roads. But I don’t recall the last RV crash that spilled diesel or some other toxic chemical, and I can guarantee you that almost anyone driving horses is a hell of a lot more careful than your average big-rig driver. Finally, consider the logistics of all of us being required to take the tests for a CDL. The states couldn?t possibly do it?unless the FMCSA is going to pay for people to conduct the testing in the 50 states. Considering the aggravating debate on the debt ceiling that’s mercifully just come to an end, I’m sure that’s not going to be in the federal budget. Here in California, it takes weeks or even months to get an appointment at the DMV for a standard license test. Why’ Because the state?s budget cuts have closed DMV offices one to two days a week. It would probably take years to get an appointment to take the CDL tests! And then the police would be largely unable to enforce it, except randomly, because of traffic violations or accidents, once again because of budget cut. I had a fender-bender accident a bit over a year ago, and it turned out it was the end of the shift for the county officer who stopped because he?d been just a few hundred yards behind. But he couldn?t stay to take our statements because it was the end of his shift and he couldn?t work on overtime. So the other driver and I had to wait until an officer on the next shift could respond. Unnecessary. Logistically impossible. Largely unenforceable. Three reasons this proposal is a disaster looking for a place to happen.