Dec. 18–Many truckers are not welcoming a federal rule that takes effect Monday requiring the use of a digital system to log hours.
The rule, which has survived years of review and legal challenges, was already being followed by many large fleets. Smaller companies, including owner-operators, have been slower to buy the electronic systems, according to industry trade groups.
Congress included the rule in a larger transportation bill that that passed in 2012 and was signed by President Barack Obama. Supporters of digital monitoring said the technology would make the roads safer by providing a clear record of whether drivers are following the existing law that requires a certain amount of rest between driving shifts.
Elected officials and regulators are “trying to fix a problem that really isn’t there,” said Monte Wiederhold, who owns a trucking business near Toledo that consists of one truck that he owns and drives, and five leased trucks used by other drivers.
However, he doesn’t have to follow the rule because his truck’s engine was made in 1999, which makes it old enough to be exempt. There are several other exemptions, including a delay of several months for certain agricultural carriers.
Wiederhold is a board member for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a trade group for some of the smallest trucking firms. The group was behind an unsuccessful legal challenge of the rule.
He points to evidence that few crashes involving trucks are because of driver fatigue. He thinks the larger safety problem is truck drivers who have too little experience, which is difficult to address in a market with high demand for new drivers.
Since the 2012 law passed, companies have come up with products to help truckers comply with the rule. On the low end, a device can be installed for less than $150 per truck, plus a monthly subscription fee to log the number of hours the truck is running, according to the Ohio Trucking Association.
Large trucking companies are more likely to have elaborate monitoring systems already in place.
Within the industry, the monitors are called “electronic monitoring devices” or ELDs.
“You are going to find a wide swath of opinion on the impact” of the rule, said Tom Balzer, president and CEO of the Ohio Trucking Association. In part because of this, his group has not taken an official position on whether it supports challenges to the rule.
Balzer sees some benefits from electronic monitoring because the resulting records will be more accurate than the existing requirement that hours be logged by hand.
“In the paper world, there is room for error,” he said.
The start of the new rule has at least one more caveat. Law-enforcement officials have said that there will be a soft implementation period with no penalties for a few months, Balzer said.
So, even though the rule is now in effect, it is highly unlikely that any driver is getting ticketed today for failure to comply.
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