Jan. 16–A new electronic logging regulation isn’t sitting well with some truckers, who say the law aimed at making highways safer has flaws that could be counterproductive.
The federal mandate that took effect Dec. 18 requires interstate commercial trucks and commercial buses to be equipped with electronic logging devices to record driving hours. The ELDs, which have to be registered with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, synchronize with the engine to automatically record driving time.
Proponents, including the American Trucking Association and the Trucking Association of Massachusetts, say the devices will improve safety on highways because they ensure compliance with regulations on hours of service.
But the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association and other opponents say the new rule does not improve safety and it is a regulatory overstep that may violate drivers’ rights. The OOIDA also contends that the mandate is a burden on small trucking companies.
Truckers are allowed to work 14 hours a day, including time to load and unload their rigs and 11 hours to drive. After driving eight hours, the driver is required to take a 30-minute break before completing the 11-hour driving limit and then the driver must not drive again for 10 hours.
The rules on hours of service for commercial truck drivers have not changed, just the way they are recorded. Before, truckers manually recorded the information on paper logs.
Pros and cons
Some truck drivers at Flynn’s Truck Stop on Route 20 in Shrewsbury recently said the new law has pros and cons, but many said the device is unnecessary. Some even say the new mandate, instead of improving highway safety, could actually lead some drivers to speed, which could lead to crashes.
“They (ELDs) are helpful in a way and they are not fair in a way,” said Lee Dozier from upstate New York, who drives for Bangor, Maine-based Hartt Transportation Systems Inc. He said he has heard some veteran drivers at truck stops talk about retiring because of the new regulation, which requires a person to be somewhat computer-literate. But, Hartt, he said, makes sure drivers are comfortable using the ELD before they get on the road. Drivers also are given written instructions to carry with them.
One thing he and some other drivers don’t like about the ELDs is that they continue to run after the engine is first started, even when the driver takes a lunch or bathroom break, cutting into the 11 hours they are permitted to drive. He said shippers and receivers of products truckers haul can also cause delays.
“If you’re being paid per mile, you’re not making that much money. That may be why some drivers speed to make up the time,” he said.
Lew P. Barnett from California was among a line of truck drivers who pulled into the weigh station on Route 146 north in Uxbridge last Thursday. He said he thinks the new mandate will cause more accidents because drivers will be less likely to rest when they get tired. Before, they simply stopped and took a nap when they felt they should.
“You have an internal clock inside you that tells you when you need to stop and rest. That (ELD) doesn’t stop. It keeps on going. And those drivers are going to keep on going for 11 hours even though they may be tired,” he said. “They’re afraid they’ll get fired for being late for a delivery or if the vegetables they’re carrying spoil.”
Norita L. Taylor, spokeswoman for the OOIDA, said nothing can make a driver sleep, including an ELD.
“The only thing an ELD can do is track movement and location of a truck. The driver still has to manually input their work status to report it,” she said. “The regulation was put into place because of safety, but it has no safety benefits whatsoever.”
She said the association has filed a request with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for small trucking businesses that do not have a carrier safety rating of unsatisfactory, and can document a proven history of safety performance with no attributable at-fault crashes, to continue to use paper logs.
“It’s going to be a pain in the neck,” said Craig A. Moran, who owns Sturbridge Service Center and MobilMed Transportation in Sturbridge. He had hoped that the federal government would delay implementation for a couple of years. The mandate, he said, has not been well thought out and it is costly to implement.
He went to Duggan Vehicle Equipment on Stafford Street in Worcester on Thursday to have an ELD installed in one of his trucks. For starters, he is installing the device in 12 of his 38 trucks. Some trucks are exempted from the mandate because of the low daily mileage they travel. But he estimates it will cost him about $5,000 for six ELDs, which are tablets, plus a $60 monthly cellular carrier fee for each, a couple hundred dollars to install each, and about $650 for a program to educate his drivers about the ELD.
He said the mandate does not take into account things that could make a routine trip longer, such as an equipment failure or a big storm.
In a snowstorm such as the one that hit the region Jan. 4, “the speed limit might be down to 25 miles per hour, so a driver can conceivably run out of time,” he said. “If I have a driver in Maine and he’s out of time, now I have to put a driver in the car and take him up there to make the delivery and get the truck back down to Massachusetts. It’s an unbelievable inconvenience.”
Trooper Steven Bedard, a member of the state police’s Commercial Motor Vehicle Enforcement Section, said he believes the new requirement will save lives. He was trained as an associate instructor at the FMCSA National Training Center in Washington, D.C. He and other troopers were at the truck weigh center on Route 146 in Uxbridge on Thursday, checking drivers’ logs and teaching drivers about the new law.
Truckers who use automatic on-board recording devices have until Dec. 16, 2019, to comply fully.
Trooper Bedard has an electronic Record of Duty Status system in his cruiser, where information from a driver’s ELD can be entered and sent to the FMCSA to decipher and then be forwarded to his office. The data that can be gathered includes the vehicle’s location and mileage at each hour, which also can help determine the vehicle’s speed.
He said it’s crucial that companies educate drivers on what they can and cannot do. Many of the drivers who pulled into the weigh station knew about the law, but were not aware how ELDs work. Trucking companies, he said, knew the winter storm was coming days in advance and should have prepared for it. One way would have been to have a relief driver on board. Each driver inputs their individual identification number when they log in. The device, he said, does allow for a trucker to make a notation for unexpected weather conditions like a snow squall.
Drivers “don’t like them (ELDs) because it’s something new. And they’re afraid of them because they can’t cheat,” Trooper Bedard said. If they drive longer than they should, “the electronic device automatically puts a violation in there. In the past, they could just fudge their (paper) logbook.”
A long road
The issue of electronic logging devices goes back 10 years. The mandate initially was to take effect in 2010, but it was vacated after the OOIDA won a lawsuit that maintained the FMCSA failed to address the issue of drivers being harassed for using the electronic devices. The association maintained that some trucking companies demanded drivers who were fatigued continue driving if they still had legal driving time left. After the federal agency continued to push for implementation, the court ruled in its favor. The bill, called “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century,” or MAP 21, was signed into law by President Barack Obama.
Bill Sullivan, executive vice president of the ATA, in a letter in 2017 asking the FMCSA to not delay the December implementation, said using an ELD makes the hours of service information “more accurate, easier to access and most importantly, more difficult to falsify.” He said the implicit reason for those who oppose using ELDs is “because they intend to cheat on their hours-of-service. It is the same reason an individual with an exotic sports car buys a radar detector: it is an implicit admission that they intend to break the speed limit.”
Anne M. Lynch, executive director of the Trucking Association of Massachusetts, said her agency is aligned with the ATA position on the ELDs. The state group has hosted seminars and educational programs to help member truckers comply with the mandate.
“The technology has proven effective in improving safety and increasing compliance many times,” she said in an email. Ms. Lynch cited a 2014 FMCSA report that found a 11.7 percent drop in the crash rate and a 50 percent reduction in the hours-of-service violations for truckers who use ELDs, compared with users of paper logs.
Mr. Dozier, the long-haul trucker from upstate New York, said a lot of accidents involving tractor-trailers are caused by other motorists who drive too close to the trucks, which weigh several thousand pounds. He said most truckers are taught to allow at least the length of a football field between them and the vehicle in front of them.
“If you’re near a tractor-trailer, get away from us and allow us to have that room to react to emergency situations,” he advised.
Ease of recording
Patrick Dwamenza, 52, a Ghanian who lives in Worcester, said he likes the ELD because of the ease of recording his work hours digitally, and he thinks it does make a fatigued driver stop and rest. But once when he was driving for Hartt in Bangor, the device stopped working.
“When it stops working, you have to go back to the paper log. You have to carry both,” he said.
Since he has been driving for Amazon the past year, the law does not require him to use an ELD. That’s because commercial trucks manufactured before 2000 are exempt from the law. The Amazon truck he drives is a 1999 Volvo. There are also other exemptions to the law.
The new law also applies to commercial bus companies.
Bill Leazer of Marlboro, who drives for Silver Fox Bus Lines in Millbury, said the company has used ELDs for about seven years.
He and some truck drivers at Flynn’s said the one good thing about the device is that Department of Transportation inspectors are less likely to question or doubt a driver’s hours-of-service documentation.
“They know you can’t alter the ELDs. There’s no cheating. Every time the vehicle moves, it records,” Mr. Leazer said, “whereas before you just did it (drive) and made it look right. We used to call that Creative Writing 101.”
Mr. Leazer said that unlike commercial truck drivers, bus drivers are allowed to drive for 10 hours and work an additional five hours in a day.
“But we can stop the timepiece anytime we want. Truckers cannot. They have a 24-hour consecutive law,” he said.
Brian Fox, owner of the 40-year-old Silver Fox Bus Lines, said the company started using ELDs as a natural transition to an automated system. He said it did not reflect company suspicion that drivers’ manual records were incorrect. The ELDs, he said, have assisted Silver Fox in planning and scheduling drivers and reducing driver fatigue.
He said he hopes that now that all commercial bus companies have to use the ELDs, it will level the playing field.
“Sometimes it’s hard to adapt to change. But this is one change that when we first started maybe I got some heartburn from it, but I think it’s been great,” he said.
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