The battle is nothing new: Safety regulators like the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) push for strengthened safety standards in the trucking industry, and the trucking industry pushes back. Recent years saw the FMCSA and NTSB make headway under the Obama administration, but much of that progress could be underdone by the current administration.
Electronic Logging Device (ELD) regulations are the latest item in contention. With a new ELD rule ready to go into effect on December 18, 2017, some in the trucking industry are scrambling to find a government ally to help them postpone the technological transition.
What is the FMCSA’s Electronic Logging Device Rule?
The FMCSA announced their ELD final rule on December 10, 2015, in an effort to incorporate modern technology in a sometimes-slow-to-change industry and to reduce falsified paper logs drawn up by drivers who wanted to skirt regulations on how many hours they can drive in a set time period. This stricter monitoring of driving hours, the agency said, would also help prevent some of the deadly accidents involving trucks that occur across America.
Exact numbers are hard to predict, but the FMCSA estimated at the time that every year 26 lives would be saved and 562 injuries prevented through the new electronic logging device rule.
“This is a win for all motorists on our nation’s roadways,” FMCSA Acting Administrator Scott Darling said in a statement. “Employing technology to ensure that commercial drivers comply with federal hours-of-service rules will prevent crashes and save lives.”
Rather than relying on drivers to handwrite their own hours in paper logs that have been dubbed “comic books” because they’re so easy to manipulate, the ELD’s required would track engine hours, vehicle movement, miles driven, and location information to ensure safety standards were adhered to.
It would be the first change to a methodology in place since 1938, and was set to begin on December 18, 2017.
Why is the Trucking Industry Fighting the ELD Rule?
The trucking industry has long argued that it is overregulated, and the primary case they make against new regulations is related to the cost of implementation and economic hardship. It’s an industry with tight margins, trucking advocates say, that can’t easily adjust to stricter standards.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has been leading the charge against the electronic logging device rule, calling for a five-year delay of its implementation, and holding a hearing with the U.S. House Committee on Small Business to speak on the negative impact they believe the trucking industry will experience from the new regulation. Four witnesses are expected to speak on behalf of the OOIDA, and the $2 billion cost they estimate will come with the ELD rule is likely to be a focal point.
“This hearing comes at a critical time for small-business truckers,” Collin Long, OOIDA’s senior director of legislative affairs, said. “All four witnesses represent industries that have serious concerns with the ELD mandate and have supported our efforts to delay its implementation. I imagine the $2 billion regulation will play a major role in the hearing.”
Another point of resistance in the industry has been older drivers who don’t want to learn the new technology of ELDs. In an “emergency petition” to Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao, the Small Business in Transportation Coalition said the following:
Historically, drivers have articulated their compliance by using paper log books called record of duty status (RODS). As indicated by our poll results, many drivers, including older drivers and one-man owner-operators, simply do not wish to use new technology to track and communicate evidence of their compliance with safety regulations.
With falsified driver logs on the rise, however, some argue that the technology is needed now more than ever, and that drivers must move ahead with the industry.
U.S. Representative Petitioning on Behalf of Trucking Industry
One friend in the OOIDA’s fight against the upcoming electronic logging device rule has been U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, a Republican representative from Woodville, Texas. Babin is the sponsor of a bill called the ELD Extension Act of 2017, which he introduced in July of 2017 to seek a two-year delay of the ELD rule.
Babin sent a letter to President Trump on November 9, 2017, asking the President to step in and prevent the ELD rule from going into effect.
“Accordingly, I respectfully request that you issue an Executive Order as soon as possible, instructing the Secretary of Transportation to provide an immediate waiver for all trucking sectors and operations subject to this mandate, until such time as it can be certified that implementation will not cause economic or other harm to the millions who are subject to it,” Babin said in the letter. He urged the President for at least a three-month delay before going on to say that the ELD rule would be costly, may not improve safety, and that ELD’s could be used for cyber attacks.
Safety Officials Argue Fatigue is Key Factor in Truck Accidents
Babin and the OOIDA may downplay the safety benefits of the new ELD rule by claiming that, among other things, it doesn’t improve safety but proponents of the regulation disagree.
A key item on the NTSB’s 2017-2018 Most Wanted List is to reduce fatigue-related accidents, which the agency says are some of the most common on America’s roadways, even citing an AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study that estimated as many as one out of every five fatal crashes involved drowsy driving.
“We see these issues in crash after crash, and we’re tired, yes we are tired, of seeing commercial drivers being tired,” Robert Sumwalt, chairman the National Transportation Safety Board, said at a NTSB hearing on a fatal Palm Springs bus crash involving a fatigued driver.
In that crash, the semi-truck driver had fallen asleep while stopped for construction in the desert, and was hit by a tour bus traveling to a nearby casino in California. Thirteen people were killed and 31 were injured, and after the crash it was discovered that the semi-truck driver had allegedly falsified his log, altering his information to demonstrate he’d slept more than he had in previous days. Investigators also deemed it possible that the bus driver had fallen asleep too, saying that both drivers appeared to suffer from undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea.
Costs of ELD Implementation Could Be Less Than Rumored
The $2 billion price tag of the electronic logging device rule has been widely touted by trucking industry advocates, but some are dubious of the figure.
The FMCSA said in their press release on the rule that it held the potential to actually save money:
The Final Rule requiring the use of electronic logging devices (ELD) will result in an annual net benefit of more than $1 billion – largely by reducing the amount of required industry paperwork.
Fort-Worth based Raider Express, a company with approximately 250 trucks that primarily transport refrigerated food, has already installed ELD’s in their vehicles, and say that the cost of installation was “just a couple of hundred dollars per truck.” Chad Davis, the safety manager of Raider Express, also says they are happy to have updated their systems to ELD and that they’ve found “an awful lot less trying to fudge things and trying to bend the rules.”
Others in the trucking industry say they are aware of the cost, but understand its necessity for preventing future truck accidents. The Texas Trucking Association (TTA) has spoken out against delaying the electronic logging device rule, and TTA President, John Esparza, says it serves a crucial purpose.
“We don’t want the delay,” Esparza said. “It’s too important not to work through this mess.”