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Serving: United States

Rules of the road

So your grain-moving train has long passed the two-axle wagons of yesteryear and the straight trucks of yesterday. You're ready to make that efficiency jump into a 18-wheeler and hammer down to river town to get more bucks per load.

Whoa there, good neighbor. Time for a brake check. The feds and every state you plan to travel through have complex rules of the road you must observe, and the wad of red tape regulations, exemptions and restrictions is enough to choke a Peterbuilt. But it all depends on what you're hauling where and for whom.

Farm Industry News talked with numerous trucking regulation authorities, from the public and private sectors, to help simplify the process for you. “Trucking regulations and exemptions can be very cumbersome, and proper compliance with appropriate federal and individual states isn't an easy process,” says Terry Dercks, senior tax and safety services representative for J.J. Keller & Associates.

If wading through regulations isn't appealing to you or an efficient use of your time, there are state and national service companies that will handle this work for you. The Internet is a great resource to locate such companies and learn more about your new venture. For instance, dial up, click on services, then permits, and you find such national companies as Schroeder & Associates (, 800/253-5338) and J.J. Keller & Associates (, 800/558-5011), which offer a wide variety of services for a fee. “While you can undertake this time-consuming process yourself, we offer a service to do it all for you, and it's usually faster because we can quickly pinpoint what a customer needs, then process the applications directly to each state,” Dercks says.

There are also state and local companies that can help with this process. Perhaps a good starting point is your state trucking/motor carrier association (see sidebar for helpful Internet resources). One company that offers such services, and also provides good information on this topic, is C&S Licensing, Sioux Falls, SD, 605/332-5802.

Play by the rules

“Make sure you're ready because this is a big step when graduating to a tractor-trailer,” says ex-state patrolman Myron Rau, now vice president of the South Dakota Trucking Association. “I've seen too many drivers quickly think they can be ‘truckers’ and start backhauling across state lines and competing with commercial truckers, only to incur heavy fines and costly downtime by ignoring necessary regulations.”

To help you grasp the basics, let's start with definitions. In government language, a trucker or trucking company is called a motor carrier, of which there are two types: private carriers and for-hire carriers. Transport only your own grain or livestock that you produce and you're a private carrier. If you haul even a single load for someone else, you become a for-hire carrier.

Next comes your license. If you drive a farm-licensed straight truck, you don't need a Commercial Driver's License (CDL) as long as you drive within 150 air miles of your farm. You also could be exempt from keeping a logbook (if you drive less than 100 miles), having a medical card and being subject to drug and alcohol testing, but this varies by state.

Written and driving tests required

But once you drive further than 150 air miles, or if you register your straight truck or tractor-trailer at a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) greater than 26,000 lbs., you must have a CDL and you're no longer exempt from the requirements listed above.

Your home state issues your CDL only after you have passed extensive knowledge and driving skill tests. Every two years you must pass a complete physical examination. Drivers also are limited by strict hours-of-service rules to avoid driving while fatigued, and these rules include maintaining a detailed driver's logbook.

These and other requirements subject drivers to random roadside inspections, at which time they can be put “out of service” or lose driving privileges for committing violations. Drivers also are subject to severe penalties, including loss of the right to continue driving for their livelihood, if they violate motor carrier highway safety regulations.

Haul your own

Next, you must decide if anything other than your grain will fill your trailer. If not, you can take your title and bill of sale to the county courthouse and get a state farm plate. But before you get in line for your plate, hit the Internal Revenue Service office to fill out a Federal Heavy Vehicle Use Tax (FHVUT) form because you can't get a plate without a stamped receipt for it. You have to file this form 2290, but you won't pay taxes until your vehicle registration exceeds 55,000 lbs. gross weight or you drive more than 7,500 miles (from July 1 to June 30).

When strictly hauling your own grain in your home state (intrastate carrier), you don't need federal registration or a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) number and usually don't have to concern yourself with fuel tax registration, but this varies by state. But if you cross your state line, even with your own product, the red tape dispenser kicks in big time — unless your state has a border agreement with a neighboring state that allows you to travel 20 to 30 miles across the border without red tape. In other words, you can go to that river grain terminal across the state-dividing bridge without many hassles.

Beyond state lines

If you want to haul your product (as a private carrier) or haul someone else's product (as a for-hire carrier) into or through other states (interstate carrier), the DOT needs to give you a U.S. DOT number (fill out form MSC 150).

Next, you must get a plate that allows legal travel in states beyond your own. Check to see if your home state's agricultural plate is accepted in other states you plan to cross. If it's not accepted, you must get an International Registration Plan (IRP) plate, also known as an Apportioned plate, which allows travel in the states you declare at registration. The annual IRP fee you'll pay for each state is prorated by truck weight and percentage of miles traveled in each state. You should apply for this license in your home state.

You also must set up an International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) account with your home state. Fuel taxes are levied by how much fuel you use when traveling on each state's roads, calculated from the quarterly reports you file. You are responsible for recording the number of miles driven and fuel you purchase in each state.

Hiring out

The next step, if you have the time and perhaps would like to recoup some of your tractor-trailer investment, is to become a for-hire carrier, which means you begin competing with commercial carriers. As with an interstate private carrier, you will need the federal DOT number, IRP Apportioned plate and IFTA account. But now that you're hauling for another party, carrying commerce across state lines, you'll need operating authority from 38 of the 48 states you roll through. You register for this in your home state through the Single State Registration Program.

There are two types of operating authority: exempt and Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC)/Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). If you plan to haul only grain or other raw, “unprocessed” commodities, the exempt classification is worth checking into, but it does limit what you can haul, especially if you're considering backhauling instead of dead heading (empty trailer) back home. Exempt authority motor carriers must contact each state they will be traveling through to apply for exempt authority, and certain states may or may not register exempt commodity motor carriers.

If you don't want to limit what you can haul, obtain ICC/FHWA (now called MC numbers issued by FHWA) authority. And don't forget to check with your home state to see if you also need intrastate authority for loading and unloading within your state.

Insure to survive

Once you plan to become a for-hire carrier, you must at least meet minimum insurance requirements established by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to obtain an operating registration.

If you operate vehicles with a GVWR of more than 10,000 lbs. and haul only nonhazardous materials, you are required to maintain $750,000 minimum liability coverage for the protection of the public. If hauling hazardous materials, the required minimum liability coverage jumps to between $1 million and $5 million, depending on type of materials being transported.

You also must carry cargo, bodily injury and property damage insurance, and many authorities also recommend a general liability umbrella policy. Check with an insurance agent familiar with motor carrier regulations to learn what insurance you need.

Tests and inspections

Finally, for a for-hire interstate carrier, there are numerous other important requirements such as record keeping, random drug and alcohol testing, DOT medical exams every two years, DOT annual vehicle inspections and more. Check with your state to make sure you comply with these and other rules of the road.

Regulation scenarios at a glance

Scenario A: You buy a tractor-trailer to haul your own grain within your home state only.

Private carrier, intrastate only: Purchase agriculture plates or base state license plates. No federal registration is required; no U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) number is required. Check with your state regarding fuel tax filing requirements. Most states do not require filing in an intrastate operation (you pay your fuel taxes at the pump), but some states, such as Michigan, require it.

Scenario B: You buy a tractor-trailer to haul your own grain and travel across state lines.

Private carrier, interstate: You need to file form MCS#150 to get a DOT number. Check with the states you intend to travel to or through to see if they accept your home state agriculture license plate. If not, get an International Registration Plan (IRP, Apportioned) plate for all the states you intend to cross. You also need to set up an International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA) account with your home state.

You may need to apply for a private carrier permit for the states of Kansas, Nebraska, Texas and Utah and set up a Highway Use Account for the states of Kentucky, New Mexico, New York and Oregon (these states require tax filings based on weight of vehicles and distance traveled).

Scenario C: You buy a tractor-trailer to haul your own grain and other farmers' grain (“for hire”).

For-hire carrier, interstate (hauling grain only): You'll need a DOT number. You may consider applying for exempt status based on the commodity you are hauling (but this limits what you can haul), or you may opt to get an MC number (federal authority) in lieu of filing for exempt status. You also need to set up the IRP, IFTA account and, if you travel in Kentucky, New Mexico, New York or Oregon, a Highway Use account. For any intrastate transporting, you may need intrastate authority.

Scenario D: You buy a tractor-trailer to haul your own grain and other farmers' grain (“for hire”), plus you backhaul product for someone else.

For-hire carrier, interstate: You'll need a DOT number, MC number (federal authority), IRP plate, IFTA account and, if running in Kentucky, New Mexico, New York or Oregon, a Highway Use account. Also, if any loads are defined as intrastate, you will need to apply for intrastate authority as well.

For more information

American Trucking Association,

Department of Transportation: Federal Highway Administration,

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration,

Fleet Owner magazine, LogisticsWorld trucking library,

Mid-West Trucking Association,

National Conference of State Transportation Specialists,

Newport Publishing,

State trucking associations,

The Class A Truckstop,

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