It’s been an interesting time in the trucking industry of late. The recent mandate requiring the use of electronic logging devices (ELDs) in most commercial motor carriers, which finally went into effect in December after protracted efforts to block or delay its passage, has already begun to impact the industry. Fleet owners, drivers, shippers and others are all undergoing an adjustment period as the rule’s ripple effects begin to come into focus. With the industry scrambling to adapt to this new reality, where do things stand today?
The ELD mandate represents a major shift in the industry. As such, it’s no surprise that the move has not been without its hiccups. Load-to-truck ratios, already high as a result of an ongoing – and deepening – driver shortfall, have climbed to record levels. With driver time at a greater premium than ever before, shippers are under increased pressure to operate efficiently throughout the loading and unloading processes. Some shippers known for delays and frequent detention problems are already facing rising costs, and the issue is only expected to worsen as demand grows and drivers’ hours suffer greater impacts.
Freight brokers, too, have found themselves under the gun. Because of the precise accounting enabled by ELD devices, Hours of Service (HOS) regulations have taken on a new importance. It’s essential for brokers to account for HOS rules and regulations when managing freight to ensure that drivers aren’t put in poor positions. Though these effects are already becoming apparent, it’s likely the full ramifications of the change won’t be felt until April, when the so-called “hard enforcement” period begins to bring down citations, out-of-service violations and other penalties on violators.
PUTTING A SQUEEZE ON CAPACITY
Trucking capacity has been tightening for some time now, even well ahead of the ELD mandate, and that doesn’t appear set to change anytime soon. Trailer orders for December were up nearly 40 percent over 2016 numbers, and refrigerated trailers, tankers and flatbeds are booming thanks to an economy in the middle of a strong recovery. Fleet owners have scrambled to keep up with rising demand for capacity, but a large share of profits have gone to driver recruitment efforts to combat the accelerating shortage of available driver-hours. Additionally, while the mass exodus of drivers and owner-operators predicted in some corners of the industry does not appear to be coming, some drivers have indeed opted to leave the industry rather than comply with tightening regulations.
While some large fleets have operated with ELDs for years now, implementing the electronic loggers industry-wide has gone anything but smoothly. A variety of issues, both expected and unforeseen, have caused issues with all parties involved. ELD manufacturers have sometimes struggled to keep pace with the sharp increase in demand, which in turn has left some fleet owners and owner-operators without access to the logging devices they need to bring their vehicles into compliance. Trucks have been sitting idle while service contracts for ELDs go unfulfilled, adding to the capacity crunch.
There are issues elsewhere as well. Many drivers, unfamiliar with electronic logs after years or decades of using paper, have been slow to adapt to the new reality. Customer service requests have skyrocketed, leaving some ELD sellers with inadequate staff to handle questions and complaints in a timely manner. Training in the use of ELDs has also been difficult to come by in some cases, forcing drivers who are new to electronic logs to either wait to get behind the wheel or risk making costly mistakes. Enforcing ELD-related regulations has already proven problematic as well, as enforcement officers are often not adequately trained and may not recognize the exceptions for which some drivers and vehicles are eligible.
BATTLING OVER EXEMPTIONS
The ELD mandate has been hotly contested across the industry, but some groups have taken particular exception to the new rules. Driveaway-towaway operators, drivers and owners of commercial vehicles manufactured before 2000 and many short-haul operators are already exempt from the electronic logger mandate, but other industry groups are pushing for exemptions of their own. American Disposal Services (ADS), a trash-hauling and recycling fleet, has asked for a five-year exemption as well as an exemption from keeping paper logs, arguing that the stop-and-go nature of its operations can’t be adequately accounted for in routine logging.
Cudd Energy Services, an oilfield service fleet, has asked for a five-year exemption as well, as have the Agricultural Retailers Association (ARA) and the Association of Energy Service Companies (AESC). The groups have lodged complaints about a number of issues, ranging from concerns over cyberattack vulnerability to inadequate broadband internet and mobile phone coverage and the cost of implementing the regulations, which many groups view as unduly burdensome. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has also petitioned for exemptions that would cover small businesses whose records and safety ratings are clean and in good standing.
Though the electronic logging device mandate is barely a month old, its effects are already being felt. Inadequate preparation has disrupted the process for many, from fleet owners and drivers to ELD vendors and enforcement officers, and more issues are surely on the horizon as the April hard-enforcement deadline looms.