On Dec. 18, 2017, a new federal rule went into effect requiring most trucking companies to record their hours of service on electronic logging devices (ELDs). The ELD mandate has aroused controversy since it was first proposed in 2014 by the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).
Government regulators believe that ELDs can increase efficiency and safety in trucking. The devices will make the reporting and tracking of drivers’ hours more accurate, they say. However, there are differing opinions in the trucking industry on whether ELDs should be required. Some carriers and owner-operators do not believe that electronic logs benefit the industry. Many truckers have threatened to quit if they are required to install ELDs in their cabs.
In December 2015, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) filed a legal petition opposing the ELD mandate in a federal court of appeals. Jim Johnston, president and CEO of OOIDA, said the group will continue to fight the implementation of the new rule.
"This regulation is absolutely the most outrageous intrusion into the rights of professional truckers imaginable and will do nothing at all to improve highway safety," Johnston said.
The legal challenge from OOIDA failed last year and the ELD rule has moved forward. As it stands, trucking fleets have until April 2018 to start using ELDs in their cabs. That is when the Commercial Vehicle Safety Administration says it will start enforcing the ELD mandate.
How will the new rule affect the industry, as well as your trucking company? Here is what you need to know:
Since the FMCSA proposed the ELD requirement in 2014, industry groups have reacted with different opinions. The American Trucking Associations (ATA) supports the rule, saying the devices will improve safety on the roads. The OOIDA has always opposed the rule, questioning whether ELDs accurately record drivers’ hours-of-service. The OOIDA has also expressed concerns that an ELD mandate may violate drivers’ privacy rights.
In a 2014 poll of 2,300 independent truckers by Overdrive, 71% said they would leave trucking if an ELD rule went into effect. Fifty-two percent of leased owner-operators and company drivers also said they would quit. That response is troubling because of the truck driver shortage and the fact that many veteran drivers are nearing retirement.
Time to Comply
The proposed rule requires carriers that currently use paper logs to start using ELDs within two years. The FMCSA estimates that approximately 3 million truck drivers still use paper logs. Trucking companies that currently use automated onboard recording devices have four years to switch to ELDs.
Drivers who filed a record-of-duty status must use e-logs that allow them to transfer data to law enforcement. This can be done through smartphones, Bluetooth, UBS, email or printouts. The ELD mandate requires that e-log devices must be synchronized with a truck’s engine and must be made by an FMCSA-certified manufacturer. Drivers are permitted to use smart phones and other wireless devices as ELDs, as long as they meet technical specifications and are listed on the FMCSA website.
Not all commercial drivers have to comply with the ELD rule. Any truck drivers who are exempt from the hours-of-service rules, such as short-haul drivers, do not have to use an e-log device.
The ELD mandate is the latest of several safety measures to emerge from Washington since the early 2000s. Some industry groups are concerned about the amount of regulations that truck drivers must follow. The OOIDA asserts that the ELD rule represents government intrusion on how truck drivers do their jobs. The FMCSA has said it will ensure that electronic logs continue to reside with carriers and their drivers. Regulators and law enforcement will only have access to the data during roadside inspections, compliance reviews or accident investigations.
The new rule includes language that regulators say protects drivers from being forced to work too many hours. Carriers, brokers or shippers that make drivers work more than the required 70 hours of service per week can face a civil penalty of as much as $16,000. The ELD rule gives drivers a procedure for filing a harassment complaint if a carrier forces them to drive while fatigued or ill.
Federal regulators say that ELDs are more accurate and harder to manipulate than paper logs. That should lead to fewer violations of the new hours-of-service rule. However, the OOIDA has pointed out drivers must still manually input their change-of-duty status into the electronic logs.
The FMCSA asserts that switching from paper logs to ELDs saves trucking companies money as well as time and paperwork. Regulators analyzed electronic logs from several manufacturers like Qualcomm. The FMCSA estimates it can cost between $165 and $832 a year to have an ELD in a commercial truck. Annual costs for all trucking companies to use ELDS would total more than $1.5 billion. However, the FMCSA predicts that ELDs will save the industry more than $1 billion each year through reduced paperwork and fewer highway accidents.
According to the FMCSA, ELDs could save about $809 annually for each truck driver. Many in the industry contest this estimate, saying that the annual cost of compliance could be in the thousands of dollars. Some of those expenses would include greater driver turnover, extra compliance personnel, more driver training and device maintenance.
The purpose of the ELD rule is to enforce safer driving among truckers. Federal regulators believe electronic devices help more carriers follow the hours-of-service rules. In 2013, the FMCSA cut the amount of time truckers can be on the road from 82 hours to 70 hours per week. The intent was to reduce fatigued driving. By tracking and enforcing hours of service, regulators say the ELD rule will help prevent 26 road fatalities and 562 injuries per year.
"This automated technology not only brings logging records into the modern age, it also allows roadside safety inspectors to unmask violations of federal law that put lives at risk," U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.
Some industry groups have argued that the new hours-of-service regulations actually harm the industry and lower driver safety. One target is the rule that requires truck drivers to spend 34 straight hours off-duty after completing a 70-hour work week. Groups like the ATA argue that this rule forces more trucks on the road at the start of the work week. Congress responded by suspending the 34-hour restart rule as part of its December 2014 spending bill, requiring the FMCSA to conduct more research into the effectiveness of the rule. As of late 2015, the restart regulation remains suspended.
Sources: Overdrive Online, FMCSA.dot.gov, TruckingInfo.com, American Trucking Associations, Commercial Carrier Journal, XRS Corp.
Costs and Capabilities of One ELD Product
The FMCSA has not determined which product manufacturers will be certified under the ELD mandate. However, the proposed rule cited Omnitracs MCP50 as an “appropriate example” of a fleet management device with ELD capabilities. Here are the main features of the MCP50, which was formerly a Qualcomm product:
Pricing is based on a five-year contract and plans are as low as $19.95 per month. The plan that covers all FMCSA and CSA compliance starts at $27.95 per month. According to the FMCSA, the average annual cost of the device is $495 per truck, once installation and services are included.
· Tracks hours of service as well as scoring based on the CSA Safety Measurement System.
· Enables the monitoring of truck routes and locations.
· Allows drivers to send and receive two-way information exchanges in real time.
· Allows fleet managers to monitor any unsafe or inefficient driving habits.
· Monitors fuel consumption and tire pressure.
· Stores vehicle inspection reports and other data.