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ATA pleads its case for timely plan to issue ELD regulations

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor and Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
July 01, 2014

Not surprisingly, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) pleaded its case to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to issue a mandate for commercial truck drivers to use electronic logging devices in order to monitor their hours-of-service requirements.

ATA filed its comments with the FMCSA late last month.

In its comments, ATA said it supports laws and regulations mandating the installation and use of electronic logging devices for recording drivers’ hours of service. And ATA added that it advocated for the MAP -21 provision mandating a rulemaking to require ELDs as it maintains these devices will improve HOS compliance as well as safety.

“For ATA’s members safety is the highest priority,” said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves in a statement, “and as such, we stand behind that agency as it advances a common sense solution to improving the safety of our nation’s highways.”

The ATA’s comments noted that according to FMCSA data generated in 2010 showed a strong correlation between HOS regulations that were in place at that time and lower crash rates. And while ATA wants the FMCSA to move quickly to issue a final rule mandating ELD usage, it does not want FMCSA to move too fast as to make the rule vulnerable to what it described as inevitable legal challenges. The ATA also said that is recognizes that FMCSA must conduct research and analysis to ensure that a final rule is judicious and defensible.

Through its comments, ATA said it has a number of suggestions for how the ELD proposal can be improved, including:
-the grandfather period for existing devices is too short, will penalize early adopters, and have a chilling effect on voluntary adoption;
-the proposed location provision standards are acceptable for enforcement purposes, but employers must be assured that they can be allowed to monitor vehicle location more precisely in the interest security, safety, and efficiency;
-the proposed use of CDL identifiers is an improvement over the agency’s prior proposal carrier-assigned driver identification numbers, but other mechanisms should be explored;
-ATA disagrees with FMCSA’a suggestion that employers should not be permitted to make ELD edits of any kind without driver approval, saying that in some cases it is appropriate, especially when correcting for errors that don’t impact compliance with driving or on-duty time rules;
-FMCSA’s proposed supporting documents requirements are excessive and unnecessary. ELD’s will help ensure a much higher degree of compliance and will all but completely eliminate the need for supporting documents; and
-FMCSA should consider ways to minimize the challenges the rules will prevent for providers of rented and leased vehicles, and their customers.

Following its mid-March proposal to mandate usage of electronic logging devices (ELDs) in commercial trucks, which was largely endorsed by large carrier companies and shippers, the FMCSA in late March issued a notice of proposed rulemaking, entitled “Electronic Logging Devices and Hours of Service Supporting Documents” in the Federal Register.

The notice of proposed rulemaking cited the FMCSA as indicating the comment period for the proposed rule will run for 60 days until May 27.

As previously reported by LM, the FMCSA’s ELD proposal is expected to cost the industry $1.6 billion, but the mandated use of ELDs in commercial trucks was hailed by the FMCSA as a potential improvement for highway safety.

Trucking-related crash fatalities are on the rise, despite a decades-long crackdown on unsafe drivers through greater use of accident data, mandatory drug and alcohol testing, and other measures. In 2012, the last full year for government statistics on the issue, 3,921 people died in trucking accidents, a 3.7 percent rise from the 3,781 fatalities in 2011.That was the third straight year of increases in trucking-related fatalities.
And there could likely be economic tradeoffs. The mandated use of ELDs could likely reduce the effective number of miles a driver could log, further tightening trucking industry capacity at a time of limited truck driver supply, rising pay and higher overall costs for fleets.
“In the interest of public safety, I support these efforts as that it will reduce subpar carriers from the industry, which is a good thing,” said Jeff Brady, director of transportation for Harry & David, a multi-channel specialty retailer and producer of branded premium gift-quality fruit, gourmet food products and other gifts, in a March interview. “Where it is a negative however, is that it adds to further shrinkage within the industry in terms of available capacity. It also adds expense as carriers will look to recoup the costs associated with the acquiring and implementing the technology.”
Brady describe the proposal as a classic tradeoff—safety vs. costs—that may have unintended consequences in driver supply and productivity for fleets.
“This is another classic example of where the industry will be further regulated, for seemingly the right reasons,” Brady added. “But the true economic impacts of the subsequent ripple effects of the changes are not well thought out.”
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates the mandate for electronic logs would prevent between 1,400 and 1,700 crashes and save 20 to 24 lives per year. That would lead to a net benefit to the country of $394.8 million annually, according to FMCSA.

Kevin Fletcher, senior vice president at Chattanooga, Tenn.-based 3PL Kenco, said that the goal of this initiative is improving safety on our nation’s roads, replacing outdated manual processes that can be subject to error with current technology, and standardizing the means of compliance across small and large fleets alike.

“For carriers and drivers that are already compliant and running legally within HOS guidelines, this proposal is probably viewed more in terms of the technology cost and reporting or administrative processes,” he said. “For those who are less compliant, this proposal may cause them greater concern than just the cost of the units and reporting. If this proposal is approved, it will be interesting to see what the requirements of the final rule will be.  The actual impact of this proposal will take some time as it does not go into effect until 2 years after the final rule has been issued.”

About the Author

John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor and Jeff Berman, Group News Editor

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