On December 18, 2017, a mandate from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) will go into effect that requires all large trucks and motorcoaches to use electronic logging devices (ELDs) to record a driver’s Hours-of-Service (HOS). First proposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in March 2014, the new ELD mandate is seen as a way to improve hours-of-service (HOS) compliance for commercial drivers in this digital era—thus improving overall safety on our nation’s highways.
As part of the DOT, the FMCSA is tasked with regulating the trucking industry, and a recent regulation that limited the HOS in conjunction with this new mandate is seen as a way to reduce if not eliminate the potential for truck drivers to misrepresent their time behind the wheel in an effort to make more or quicker deliveries in order to rack up more pay—a situation that can be quite common with written paper logs. The obvious downside to this practice is that drivers become sleep-deprived, leading to life-threatening mistakes being made on our nation’s highways. This is the very reason we need better regulations, because—as I covered in a recent blog—the trucking industry is changing and we need to make sure that our laws change along with it in order to keep all travelers safe.
While there have been several unsuccessful attempts by lobbyists and bipartisan groups to delay the ELD mandate, many commercial carriers have already adopted the system in order to enjoy other benefits such as better cargo tracking and reduced paperwork. But small-sized carriers and independent truckers have been reluctant for reasons that include the cost of new equipment and management of the technology infrastructure along with cybersecurity concerns.
The FMCSA recognized that such issues do exist with certain sub-groups, and on November 20th, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) granted a 90-day extension for truckers with agriculture and livestock loads, but other groups are asking for more. One such group is the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), who stated in a press release the day after the FMCS’ extension was announced that they would like a five-year exemption for many small-business truckers. The carriers and/or drivers would need to be recognized by the Small Business Administration and have a “satisfactory” safety rating with no at-fault crashes.
While the new ELD mandate can accomplish a lot in the way of safety, it is understandable that an industry with already tight margins for smaller players could take time in achieving 100 percent compliance. Similarly, new vehicle technologies such as assisted braking and autonomous driving, deliver the promise of safety—yet, they too pose an expensive speed bump for many smaller haulers to get up to speed. The upcoming mandate deadline should be a good test to see if such safety measures can be rolled out across an entire industry, or if loopholes and exceptions will leave us with ineffective legislation that still allows far too many individuals to be injured or seriously hurt.