In our last blog we wrote about the new protection for truck drivers which made it illegal for carriers and shippers to coerce them into violating their hours of service limitations. Last week there was an important new development when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a rule requiring most drivers to begin using electronic logging devices (ELDs) by December, 2017.
Since 1938, bus and truck drivers have been required to keep logs of their activities while on duty. The logs are kept in written form, and each day and hour within that day must be accounted for. Every time there is a “change of duty status” such as stops for sleep, fuel, loading or unloading, it must be recorded. The purpose of the log is to ensure that drivers are conforming to prescribed hours of service rules. Authorized government representatives and carriers can check the logs at any time.
Obviously, such a system is cumbersome, to say the least; and for several years there has been a push to require the installation of electronic on-board recording devices, commonly referred to as ELDs. Finally, last week, after four years of public listening sessions and extended comment periods, the FMCSA published the long awaited rule.
There are limited exceptions to the rule such as tractors manufactured prior to 2000, tow away drivers, and short term, temporary operations; but it is estimated that at least 3 million drivers will be affected. The FMCSA believes the regulation will save $1 billion annually, primarily in paperwork savings, and eliminate 26 fatalities and 562 injuries annually. (Hopefully, they will improve safety, but the death and injury figures are highly subjective.)
As one might imagine, many drivers are underwhelmed. While the ELD’s will save them time, they view the intrusion as another “big brother is watching you” move by the government, and as evidence of a lack of trust in their honesty in completing paper logbooks. The concern is particularly prevalent among owner-operators who will be forced to bear the expense of installation and maintenance. Some have suggested there will be a major uptick in the pre-2000 tractor market.
So what does all this mean for shippers and receivers? Obviously, the cost will be a concern, not only to owner-operators, but to carriers that must install the devices in all their equipment. As with any carrier cost, we will see those expenses reflected in rates. In concert with the new coercion rule, carriers, shippers, and receivers are prohibited from using the ELDs for any form of driver harassment. And for those who might be inclined to do so, and unfortunately there are too many, it will be almost impossible to coerce a driver to wait just one more hour or deliver just a little late when his time has run out, because of the electronic recorder.
While the new rules do not modify any current hours of service regulations, they will reinforce adherence to the existing rules by all parties to the shipment. Hopefully, shippers and receivers by their actions, will help the carriers alleviate some of their increased costs and decreased productivity. And finally, for the drivers who have not kept honest logs, the ELDs should remove any temptation to game the system.
For a good summary of the 500+ page rule, see the American Trucking Associations summary at www.trucking.org.