Commentary: The ELD Mandate’s Unanswered Question

I refuse to ever put a devil’s machine in my truck.”

<p><strong>Deborah Lockridge</strong></p>

That’s what a three-truck fleet owner told me when he called to talk about mandatory electronic logging devices – and it wasn’t just a figure of speech. He said ELDs, along with computers and the Internet, will be Satan’s tool to control us all after the Rapture. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, he said, is being controlled by the Prince of Darkness himself.

I’m withholding his name, but my caller said he’s been driving for some 50 years and millions of miles and has a totally clean record, no tickets, no accidents. He also said God is his co-pilot – and perhaps he is, if this driver regularly drove coast to coast in 37 hours, as he claimed. As you might guess, he said he will not put an ELD in his truck.

I wonder how long that clean record will last.

As I write this, it’s been just over a month since the FMCSA started requiring most interstate commercial truck drivers to start using ELDs to track compliance with federal hours of service rules.

The reactions to the long-delayed, long-debated, long-contested ELD mandate that took (partial) effect in December have been all over the map, from this extreme example on one end, to FMCSA’s new deputy administrator saying that “a great deal of work with our enforcement partners went into ensuring that the rollout of the ELD rule was a success.” 

The reality, as usual, is somewhere in the middle. Of course with any big regulatory change like this, there are going to be hiccups, to say the least.

You can read about a few of them in our Safety & Compliance department this month. For instance, there’s a fair amount of confusion among drivers and enforcement personnel about the difference between the mandatory ELDs and the previous FMCSA spec for voluntary e-logs, automatic onboard recorders (AOBRDs), which some fleets are still using during a two-year grandfathered period. Plus problems and misunderstandings with the electronic transfer of the logbook data.

We’ve also seen a lot of anecdotal reports of increased problems with truck parking, which many critics predicted. A number of fleets and specialty trucking interest groups have filed for and received various exemptions and delays. Owner-operators who are refusing to put ELDs in their trucks are traveling back roads to avoid scales and inspections. 

A lot of this will work itself out, although it doesn’t make it necessarily less painful in the meantime.

The bigger question is whether the rule truly will save lives.

It’s no secret that even the safest truckers have told “white lies” on their paper logbooks that would allow them to, for instance, reach a safe parking spot at night when delays at a shipper or receiver put them behind schedule. Several truckers and fleets told me they’re now driving faster to make up for that time lost, which is a safety concern. In fact, ELD provider KeepTruckin found through analyzing ELD data and conducting surveys that 75% of drivers are detained at a pickup or drop off location for at least two hours every week – and that they drive 3.5 mph faster after such “extended detention events.” That’s why KeepTruckin petitioned FMCSA asking for a two-hour exemption for long-haul drivers delayed at a shipper.

In short, the real question lies with the hours of service rules themselves. How effective are they, really, at preventing fatigue? We’ll explore that question in a feature Equipment Editor Jim Park, a former driver himself, is working on for the March issue. My hope and belief is that ELD data will help answer that question. Because where the devil really lies, as they say, is in the details.

 

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