New Electronic Requirements Good for Government, Bad for Truck Drivers?

By: Bridget Clerkin December 14, 2017
An electronic logging device tracks the number of hours a semi-truck operator is driving during a given day. The devices are about to be federally mandated, and not all truckers are happy about it.
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Commercial trucking is one of the most tightly regulated industries in the country, and starting this month, drivers will have to add another government requirement to their already lengthy checklist.

Starting on December 18, commercial trucks will have to be fitted with electronic logging devices (ELDs), to ensure drivers aren’t fudging official log book numbers. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued the edict in 2014, and although the industry has known of the coming change for some time, drivers and business owners alike are still unhappy about the new addition to their rides, saying the idea could back up productivity or even backfire altogether.

Similar to a GPS, the small device connects to a vehicle’s engine and tracks how long a truck is in motion. The idea is to ensure drivers aren’t playing fast and loose with government rules mandating that employees drive no longer than 11 hours at a time without taking a 30-minute break. All told, a driver’s workday is required to be capped at 14 hours—which the devices will also track.

Currently, such numbers are tracked through paper logbooks filled out by drivers, and the process of sorting through them takes more recordkeeping hours than any other fact of government outside of tax-related filings, FMCSA officials have said.

The government agency has argued that the electronic submission of such information will not only streamline the massive operation—to the tune of nearly $1 billion in annual savings—but also improve roadway safety by keeping drivers on a tight leash when it comes to mandatory breaks. Fatigue behind the wheel of a big rig is a huge risk factor for accidents, and the switch to ELDs has been projected to save 26 lives, prevent 562 roadway injuries, and net up to $394.8 million in savings related to such accidents, all on an annual basis, according to FMCSA analyses.

But those most affected by the electronic replacement say the idea could come with troublesome consequences.

Some have argued that the device won’t be flexible enough and will in fact force drivers to log longer hours in a stretch. Since the clock can’t be stopped, if a break takes longer than a half hour, drivers will have to make up for it on the back end by adding extra drive time to cover the perceived shortage in electronically measured minutes, some have predicted. Others have worried that the devices will be used to log other aspects of their driving, such as their speed, and could be used to exact punishment at a future date.

For now, the industry has at least a small window to come to terms with the new devices. The Trump administration issued an order this November giving truckers a 4-month grace period to adjust to the ELDs, during which time anyone caught driving without one will simply be cited and allowed to continue driving, as long as their hours are found to be in compliance with federal rules. After April 1, 2018, normal enforcement of the regulation will resume.

Welcome or not, it seems log books are just another aspect of commercial trucking that are bound for a digital update.

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