Electronic Truck Driver Logs: An Increase in Safety for Everyone?

by Mike Stephenson
(Shelbyville, IN, USA)

If you’re not employed in the trucking industry, you might have missed what has turned into a serious conflict over the coming switch to electronic logging devices (ELDs) by truckers. Commercial truck drivers and companies are expected to use ELDs by December, 2017. However, independent truckers believe that the new ELDs will create problems for them.

For many decades, truck drivers have maintained paper records. These paper logs mainly keep track of a driver’s hours of service (HoS), which attempt to ensure adequate periods of rest. However, paper logs can easily be defeated—often it’s no more difficult than simply writing down false information. For that reason, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) adopted a Final Rule in December, 2015, that requires the use of ELDs. The FMCSA believes that the new technology will make it easier to track the compliance of commercial truck and bus drivers with regard to HoS regulations. It is also believes that using ELDs will save more than $1 billion in costs because of the reduction of paperwork in the trucking industry. Protections that will prevent drivers from being harassed over HoS and other situations are included in the Final Rule that implements ELDs. The devices are also expected to save approximately 26 lives and prevent 562 injuries in crashes each year.

In a series of comments, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said, “Since 1938, complex, on-duty/off-duty logs for truck and bus drivers were made with pencil and paper, and were virtually impossible to verify. 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.”

What Are ELDs, and Why Are They an Improvement?
Federal regulations limit the number of hours a commercial driver can be on duty, as well as the total number of hours they can drive. Such rules were instituted to reduce the chances of accidents due to fatigue. These rules are easier to abide by if driving time is automatically recorded; employers cannot force a driver to work longer hours if the ELD clearly indicates that limits have been met. And that’s what an ELD does—it monitors hours of service by logging engine hours, vehicular movement, and miles driven. ELDs also document location information.

The ELD Final Rule includes three points that many believe will improve the situation for commercial drivers and help prevent accidents:

• Harassment of commercial truck and bus drivers is prohibited. The ELDs will create records that will make it difficult to force drivers to work beyond HoS limits. The FMCSA also has the authority to enforce rules regarding violations perpetrated by motor carriers, shippers, receivers, and others.
• New HoS reporting requirements will result in paperwork reductions. Some believe this could cut 20 minutes off a driver’s day. Additionally, in most cases, a motor carrier would not have to keep

backup documentation that verifies driving time, further reducing the paperwork load.
• The new technological specifications would create devices and systems that comply with the new regulations and also help those who purchase ELD systems make informed decisions.
Drivers will be allowed to use smart phones and other wireless devices for ELDs as long as they satisfy the technical specifications listed on the FMCSA website.

Objections from Independent Carriers
Many large carriers have already implemented ELD, because they think that electronic records will reduce the errors that produce fines. But the independents think that ELDs will lead to more harassment over working hours, not less. Because of this belief, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) is challenging the requirement to use ELDs.
Independent truckers think that the devices’ automatic logging feature might force a trucker to stop driving prematurely some days. The reason? The system’s automation wouldn’t take into account that the driver might not actually be working simply because the truck is logged in as operating. Another example of a potential problem is that a driver might be forced to stop and sleep even if no safe place to park for the night is within driving range.

The OOIDA, which represents 150,000 truckers, has challenged the required usage of ELDs. Jim Johnston, OOIDA’s president and CEO, released a statement which noted, “This rule has the potential to have the single largest, most negative impact on the industry than anything else done by FMCSA. We intend to fight it with everything we have available.”
OOIDA’s new lawsuit might bring about another years-long round of litigation. In a previous lawsuit that challenged FMCSA’s 2010 rule requiring installation of electronic onboard recorders (an earlier version of ELDs), the OOIDA convinced an appellate court that such devices could violate privacy and harass drivers, but not improve safety.

So, Who’s Right?

Those who want ELDs in place, a group which includes the large industry organization the American Trucking Association, claim paper logs are easily manipulated. But because ELDs keep track of location, movement, and when the engine is running, using one would make it harder to duck regulations and restrictions regarding hours of service.
Studies have shown> that operational rules are often broken by long-distance truckers. Not only that, if it were insisted upon that everyone implement ELDs, the competitive advantage that comes from violating regulations would disappear. In a capitalist system, anything that levels the playing field ultimately benefits everyone.

FMCSA Acting Administrator Scott Darling is on record as saying, “This is a win for all motorists on our nation’s roadways. Employing technology to ensure that commercial drivers comply with federal hours-of-service rules will prevent crashes and save lives.”

The new FMCSA rule affects around 3 million drivers. Only time will tell whether the Final Rule will go into effect at the end of 2017, and whether it will mean improved safety for everyone on the roads.

Mike Stephenson, a personal injury lawyer with McNeely Stephenson of Shelbyville, Indiana, near Indianapolis, has been successfully litigating Indiana truck accidents since 1981.

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