The trucking industry is gearing up for a major overhaul come the end of the year, when drivers will cease logging their hours on the road with pencil and paper and usher in a new era of electronic recording aimed at improved safety for drivers.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s mandate on electronic logging devices (ELDs) goes into effect Dec. 18. The measure is being enforced to improve safety, but while larger trucking operations support the effort, there’s the assertion that the mandate could drive smaller operators out of business.
The FMCSA declined to speak with the Journal but provided a statement from Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx: “Since 1938, complex, on-duty/off-duty logs for truck and bus drivers were made with pencil and paper, virtually impossible to verify. This automated technology not only brings logging records into the modern age, it also allows roadside safety inspectors to unmask violations of federal law that put lives at risk.”
The safety administration estimates that ELDs will prevent 1,844 crashes, 562 injuries and save 26 lives annually by keeping exhausted drivers off the road. Switching to electronic logs also is expected to eliminate more than $1.6 billion in paperwork costs for motor carriers and law-enforcement agencies reviewing drivers’ logs.
The mandate will impact more than 3.5 million commercial drivers and equip more than 500,000 U.S. trucking firms with ELD, which looks to be about a $1 billion business, according to FMCSA estimates.
The logs are used by truckers who go cross-country or go beyond 100 mile radius of their home and are checked by the California Highway Patrol at weigh stations.
“The idea behind the logbook is to keep the driver from overdriving,” said Dale Belvin, from Willits, who used to drive for Fortuna Trucking, and also drove for UPS. “You’re only allowed to drive 11 hours in 24 hours. In the old days we used to drive 20 hours in 24 hours. And we could hide those hours in our paper log books by having two of them going at the same time.
“In the old days we could cheat on (CHP) very easily. Now the scales scan your license plates and the electronic tags on them and they can actually tell how long it took you to get from the last scale, so they can tell if you’re speeding and all of that.”
Safety advocates, the American Trucking Association and big motor carriers support the rule, arguing that it would prevent truckers from driving past federal limits determined by the so-called federal hours of service rules.
Large carriers like UPS and FedEx are already using electronic systems to record truckers’ driving time and behavior.
For some independent contractors, however, who have been struggling with the state’s tightening regulations on the trucking industry, the mandate could be the final nail in the coffin, said Fernando Santos, fleet manager at Yandell Truckaway.
Yandell, based in Benicia, has 33 trucks of its own and hires 55 independent contractors. All 55 said they are not interested in switching over, Santos said.
“There’s a very good possibility we could lose some. We lost some when the (state) emissions regulations kicked in, and this is not as expensive, but it is another expense,” he said. “This might be the last straw.”
Regulation to reduce diesel emissions has been ongoing in California over the last decade. The latest stipulates that by 2023 nearly all trucks will need to have 2010 model year engines or the equivalent.