To some, it’s a vital and necessary step to improve safety and compliance in the trucking industry. To others, it’s an unnecessary regulatory burden that will drive up costs for little to no benefit. No matter the perspective, one thing is clear: the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) mandate requiring the use of electronic logging devices in most commercial motor carriers is a contentious hot-button issue. With the new rule set to be enforced in December, it’s important to understand what the mandate entails, why there is such disagreement and how it may ultimately affect the industry at large – both in the present and into the future.
THE ELECTRONIC LOGGING DEVICE RULE
As part of Congress’ Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) bill, the FMCSA was required to institute a rule mandating the use of electronic logging devices (ELDs) in commercial trucks. Despite several efforts to alter or delay the rule, the ELD mandate will go into effect on December 18, 2017. On that date, the paper logbooks that have been standard in the industry for nearly a century will officially be phased out. In their stead, ELDs – electronic devices that sync directly with a truck’s engine to record all activity and automatically log hours of operation – will become the new mandatory standard for most commercial motor carriers.
Under the ELD rule, the two-year period from December 18, 2017, to December 16, 2019, will act as a phased-in compliance period. Trucks already equipped with any electronic logging technology will be allowed to continue using it during this time, while those without must install devices that are self-certified and registered with FMCSA. By the end of this period, all vehicle subject to the mandate must be equipped with self-certified and registered devices. Exemptions to this rule are limited and primarily include vehicles manufactured before the 2000 model year and those engaged in drive-away-tow-away operations.
SAFETY AND COMPLIANCE
The push for tighter regulations in the trucking industry has been ongoing for years, aimed primarily at improving safety in an industry in which approximately 750 drivers are killed behind the wheel each year. In particular, the push for greater productivity – combined with a shortfall of qualified, experienced drivers – has put a burden on truckers and often pushed drivers to continue on despite burnout and sleep deprivation. Standard paper logs are vulnerable to both accidentally and intentionally inaccurate entries, making it more difficult to verify compliance with Hours of Service regulations.
The electronic logging mandate is intended to address this issue by creating an automatic logging standard tied directly to the vehicle’s engine. Electronic logging systems document duty status, time and duration of operation and other details automatically and precisely, producing an accurate and verifiable digital log of all activity. Some companies have already adopted electronic loggers in an effort to improve efficiency in management and scheduling, reduce paperwork and save on fuel costs.
Not all in the trucking industry view this mandate as a positive change, however. In fact, surveys have indicated that the new rule is the most pressing concern facing the industry. Many truckers view this detailed monitoring as unnecessary regulatory overreach, intruding on drivers and raising thorny privacy issues. Many drivers have also raised concerns that the changes may have the opposite of its intended effect, forcing truckers to drive in heavy traffic, inclement weather and other potentially unsafe conditions.
Many small companies are particularly concerned about the effect on driver availability. Driver shortages are already pronounced, and with the expected reduction in available driver-hours, some carriers worry that there may not be enough truckers to pick up the slack. This may be exacerbated by the fact that drivers who have never used electronic logs will require training before they’re ready to hit the road. Another issue is unassigned mileage. From a service technician’s road test to a short trip to fuel up, every movement must be accounted for and assigned to a driver. Reconciling these movements will take additional oversight and coordination between drivers and managers.
With valid arguments both for and against the implementation of the electronic logging device rule, the mandate’s ultimate impact on the trucking industry remains unclear. The change is projected to reduce the rate of fatigued driving considerably, leading to a safer and more responsible industry. However, with the cost of implementation estimated to run into the billions of dollars, the financial impact could put many carriers in a tough spot.
Though larger carriers are expected to fare well – indeed, many have already made the switch to electronic logging – small carriers and owner-operators may bear the brunt of the impact. Industry analysts expect that some such carriers may be forced to fold under the strain of new equipment and personnel costs and lost productivity, and some estimates suggest the exodus could be great enough to reduce total hauling capacity by as much as three to five percent. These factors may also combine to push trucking rates higher, potentially leading to a far wider impact throughout the industry and the economy as a whole.
While there’s no doubt that improving safety in the transportation industry is an important and worthwhile goal, the impending ELD mandate remains a hotly contested issue. The impact on the industry, both short- and long-term, remains an open question with potentially serious ramifications. For better or worse, few answers are likely to come until the regulation goes into effect this December.