ATA, shippers applaud FMCSA proposal for electronic logging devices in trucks
March 14, 2014 - LM Editorial
Large trucking companies and shippers are welcoming a government proposal to require electronic logging devices in heavy trucks as a way to bolster trucking safety.
But representatives of nearly 1 million owner-operators say they have concerns over costs, privacy and how the data will be stored and whether it could be used to harass truck drivers.
The March 13 proposal by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is expected to cost the industry $1.6 billion. But the mandated use of electronic logging devices (ELDs) in commercial trucks was hailed by the organized trucking lobby 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.
“ATA supports FMCSA’s efforts to mandate these devices in commercial vehicles as a way to improve safety and compliance in the trucking industry and to level the playing field with thousands for fleets that have already voluntarily moved to this technology,” American Trucking Associations President and CEO Bill Graves said in a statement.
And ATA Chairman Phil Byrd, president of Bulldog Hiway Express added that “It is past time to replace pencil and paper with 21st century technology.”
Shippers also seemed pleased with the new rule. Jeff Brady, director of transportation and logistics for Harry & David, a multi-channel specialty retailer and producer of branded premium gift-quality fruit, gourmet food products and other gifts, said while this was another layer of regulation for the trucking industry, it was a worthwhile tradeoff because of its potential for greater highway safety.
“By working to implement Electronic Logging Devices across the industry, I expect to see the government’s assumptions of reduced costs associated to paperwork, improving accuracy by removing the manual logs that may be maintained fraudulently, being largely true,” Brady told LM.
Still, 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,” Brady explained. “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.
The Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA) has long opposed electronic logging devices on privacy grounds, and likely could be counted on for a court challenge on this latest proposal. FMCSA will have a 60-day comment period on the proposal before issuing the final rule.
Tilden Curl, an OOIDA member and independent driver from Olympia, Wash., last year told a FMCSA “listening session” at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., that highway safety cannot be enhanced without fundamentally addressing the root problems in the industry. They would be driver and “regulatory fatigue,” and a system that he says is “penalty driven, rather than reward driven.”
OOIDA’s concerns over ELDs are that the data collected may not be private and could be used by carrier dispatchers into harassing drivers or forcing them to operate while fatigued.
FMCSA has said that ELDs would not go beyond recording actual hours-of-service compliance, and could not be utilized to harass drivers.
ATA successfully advocated for inclusion of a provision mandating ELDs in the most recent highway authorization law. Large trucking companies long have fought for ELDs as a way to “level the playing field” while competing against rogue operators who routinely break the HOS rules, which limit drivers to 11 hours of driving a day up to 70 hours in a work week.
“We’re pleased that we’re now seeing a proposal from FMCSA,” said ATA Executive Vice President Dave Osiecki.
ATA said it is requesting FMCSA “move quickly to craft a final rule that ensures deployment of tamper-proof equipment, while still ensuring the regulatory flexibility needed to accommodate the diversity of the trucking industry and the ELD vendor community.
“We especially appreciate FMCSA proposing that paper printouts of ELD data be an acceptable means of demonstrating hours of service compliance, but not requiring all ELDs to be printer-equipped,” he added.
The devil is always in the details, Osiecki added. He said ATA has concerns with some details relating to supporting document retention requirements and grandfathering of existing devices, among others, and will address those with FMCSA going forward
The proposal spells out technical specifications for ELDs. They would track latitude and longitude, log engine hours and odometer readings. It would record location every 60 minutes and report whether the engine is on or off. The data could not be altered, FMCSA said, adding the devices would largely be tamper proof.
OOIDA won a court case against FMCSA in 2011 that led to a commission to study the issue of driver harassment. The study is being conducted by Virginia Tech, which is currently gathering data and has not yet released it to the public.
OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Ryan Bowley said the issue is far from over. “The agency (FMCSA) can’t answer the simple question about whether the use of an electronic log on its own would actually make the highways safer,” Bowley told LandLine magazine, an OOIDA publication. “Everything they are basing this proposal on is compliance. They’re saying that if compliance increases, safety will also increase.”
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