Jan. 13–A new regulation that mandates the use of electronic logging devices that automatically record driving time went into effect for most in the trucking industry Dec. 18.
At the same time, a 90-day waiver was granted for drivers hauling agricultural commodities.
That’s because a one-size-fits-all mandate doesn’t actually fit all, said Dave Flier, an independent truck driver from Ipswich.
Jay Lier of Bath-based Jay Lier Trucking agrees. He said the requirement could cost him $230,000 of his $300,000 income.
That’s if the mandate doesn’t encourage the 50-year-old to retire early.
Lier hauls grain, livestock and feed supplements, which means he qualifies for the waiver and hasn’t yet installed a logging device. If the waiver expires without modifications to the current rule, he said he’ll be forced to cut back from hauling in five or six states to only running locally. And that, he said, will drastically affect his bottom line.
“For larger companies, (the new policy) works really well. For the small, independent guys, not so much,” said Kristi Brunes, owner of Prorate Services, a Stratford-based business that assists drivers with complying with federal and state laws.
Fargo-based Magnum Trucking in North Dakota operates about 500 trucks nationwide, with seven in Aberdeen.
Magnum has used electronic logging devices for the last 10 or so years, said CEO Wayne Gadberry. They help ensure the company is in compliance with federal hours-of-service rules. The rules allow a driver to work 14 straight hours, but drive only 11 of those. They also include a mandatory 10-hour rest time between shifts.
Before electronic logging devices, Flier said, drivers were more in control of how they tracked hours.
Until recently, truckers have kept paper logs of their hours, a practice that dates back to 1938, according to the Associated Press.
“We’ve been fighting that rule ever since and we can’t get anyone to wake up to that either,” he said. “On paper, we could make it work for us … but it’s not like we fudged our paper logs on a consistent basis. We were still subject to being stopped and checked.”
The electronic devices don’t allow for any leeway, he said.
The regulation doesn’t take into account, for instance, if a trucker has to sit in line for hours waiting to load or unload. The 14 hours are nonnegotiable.
Drivers aren’t the only people affected by the change. The change is increasing freight prices, which will boost costs for consumers.
Gadberry said adding the logging devices takes an initial investment. They cost from $250 all the way up to $800, Brunes said.
And from there expenses continue to add up.
Chris Herren, who owns and operates Herren Enterprises of Crooks, estimated he has spent at least an extra $1,000 for each of his trucks. That includes buying the devices, paying for a monthly subscription, data fees and employee training.
Furthermore, freight costs have increased around 30 percent or more, he said. Unfortunately, he said, that expense is going to be passed along to consumers at stores.
“We’ve already seen it in the rates. You won’t see it in the lumber yards or stores right away because most of them already have set prices. But they’ll get that cost back the next time,” he said.
Dwindling workforce, decreased profits
One of the reasons there are fewer trucks is because there are fewer drivers.
Herren Enterprises is one of Brunes’s clients. It typically has between 32 and 38 trucks in operation, but because he lost 30 percent of his workforce when the regulation went into effect, the company is currently running between 23 and 26 trucks, he said.
He’s not alone in that aspect, he said.
“There’s a lot of that in the industry right now,” Herren said. “Guys that have been doing it forever just aren’t going to be regulated to death.”
Opponents of the rule say it seems too Big Brother-esque, Brunes said.
“I’ve been out here 37 years. I don’t think I need someone looking over my shoulder,” Flier said.
He called the logging devices “an electronic tattle tale that we don’t need.”
But more than that, opponents say the way they calculate hours of service is problematic.
The hours-of-service rule mandates that all work be completed in the 14-hour window. That means once a driver starts a truck, he or she is on duty — whether that truck is sitting in a line waiting to load or unload, stuck in traffic in a metropolitan area, or navigating seamlessly to its next destination, Brunes said.
Flier lives 23 miles out of Aberdeen, he said. Those miles count against his 14 hours.
“For us, that’s a load into a sale barn or packing plant in the morning,” he said.
Most truckers who haul livestock to a sale barn wait to haul a load out after the sale, he said. But now all that time sitting around is considering on the clock — and it’s cutting into profits. Even with the truck shut off, the work clock runs.
Larger companies often don’t have that wait. Most drop a load and pick up another, Flier said. Because he hauls animals, he doesn’t have that luxury.
Ag commodities are in question because of several factors, including the health of animals being transported, the risk of spreading disease and long waits to load or unload, Brunes said.
Herren installed the devices on his trucks because many of them are used to haul building materials. But the company is also the one of the larger bee haulers in the U.S., he said. That’ll change if the waiver isn’t extended or something doesn’t change, he said.
Stopping on the road with bees and livestock is a problem.
“You can’t stop with them when it’s hot,” he explained.
Hauling bees in daylight also requires keeping air flowing because the bees are active, Herren said.
The waiver was granted at the request of the National Pork Producers Council.
“Hogs carry a disease so you really have to be careful with them,” Brunes said.
Hogs aren’t the only issue, though. Getting cattle to a destination in hot weather is also a concern.
“You can’t make animals stand on a trailer (longer than necessary). That’s like putting you in a closet that you can barely fit in,” Lier said.
A safety issue
The mandate was put in place to prevent driver fatigue and, as a result, the number of accidents.
“It’s a good thing for the public’s safety,” Gadberry said, noting that electronic logging devices will keep drivers from abusing the system and driving more hours than allowed.
That should help prevent accidents, he said.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimates that devices will prevent 1,844 crashes and 562 injuries and save 26 lives annually.
But Herren countered, saying electronic logging will make roads less safe because truckers will need to make every minute count. That means a driver likely won’t sleep until his or her hours are up, instead pushing down the road despite weather, traffic and fatigue.
“Years ago if a driver was coming to a metropolitan area and it was rush hour, he’d pull over and sleep and then drive through later,” Herren explained.
With an electronic logging device, even if a driver sleeps in a truck while it’s being loaded, he or she is still considered working. And schedules also get pushed back because of load times and road construction, Herren said.
“(Using electronic logging devices) hasn’t changed the laws, but it changes how they can be implemented,” Brunes explained.
And it increases enforcement.
Drivers who violate the hours-of-service rule face being fined and placed out of service. While state and local law enforcement can assess fines, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration can also levy penalties that range from $1,000 to $11,000 per violation, depending on the severity.
And it’s not just about money. Sometimes it’s about a driver making it home to see family, Herren said. Some drivers who are 15 minutes from home when their 14 hours run out will pull over instead of continuing home to a familiar bed and risking a fine, he said.
There is a fix, Lier said. And that’s to leave the smaller companies be. He considers smaller companies any with five or fewer trucks.
Herren said simple changes could be made to the hours of service rule that would solve a lot of the problems.
The 90-day waiver expires March 18. Right now, those who oppose the regulations are encouraged to speak up.
“You got to call your congressmen,” Flier said. “If nobody does, they don’t know there’s a problem and they can’t do anything about it. They’re accessible.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation is also taking comments regarding agricultural commodities through Friday.
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