Monthly Archives: September 2017

The New Paradigm On Sleep Apnea For Truck Drivers Too

Although sleep apnea in trucking is not a new topic, it’s come back to the forefront with a force, the United States Supreme Court has declined to hear a wrongful termination suit filed against a certain fleet carrier. In declining to hear the suit, the decision could create a legal precedent allowing for carrier-mandated sleep apnea testing.

But what are the details behind this case the Supreme Court refuses to hear?

In 2013, a truck driver sued the company he worked for based on a wrongful termination after he refused to take a sleep apnea test. All of this stemmed from the company changing their policy in 2010 to include a mandatory sleep apnea test.

They based the change on whether the truck driver had a BMI of 35 or greater. According to the BMI index, a BMI of 25 to 29.9 qualified a person as overweight, anything over 30 is considered obese.

The employee in question even brought a note from his doctor explaining that further testing was not necessary at this point, but the company refused to recognize the note. When the employee refused to take the test, the carrier suspended him indefinitely.

When asked, the employee’s attorney stated that the person in question had never been involved in any accidents nor had he exhibited any issues with fatigue in the past. As a matter of fact, he had even been given a safe driving award by a previous employer.

The lawsuit brought before the court was filed claiming discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. When the case made it to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, the court ruled in the company’s favor.

In their ruling the court stated that since sleep apnea could pose a major risk to the safety of the driver and those on the road, the company’s request for a medical examination was valid. It went on to state that the trucker’s high BMI made him at greater risk for sleep apnea and potential road injury.

Since the Supreme Court decided to pass on the case, the original court’s ruling will remain upheld. This means other motor carriers contemplating a similar measure have free rein to create similar edicts. Does this mean these carriers can consider themselves free from future legal challenges, however? Well, not exactly.

What is Sleep Apnea?

For those unfamiliar with sleep apnea, it quite literally comes from the Greek root for the word “apnea”, which quite literally means “without breath.” The most common type of apnea is called obstructive sleep apnea, in which a sleeping patient’s tongue falls back against his or her soft palate. Which has a result of effectively closing the airway.

People who suffer from sleep apnea often find themselves stopping and starting breathing repeatedly throughout the night, sometimes for 30 seconds to a minute or even longer. In most cases, the person suffering from sleep apnea doesn’t even know this is happening because the breathing stoppage doesn’t cause a full awakening. Still, it does cause other health problems down the road.

A common sign of sleep apnea is when one is finding themselves fighting sleepiness during the daytime, whether at work or in other situations. At quiet moments in the day, one may find themselves drifting or unwittingly falling asleep. Another sign of sleep apnea is if one snores loudly at night or makes gasping or choking sounds as they sleep.

Other potential signs include:

  • Waking up with a headache (indicating not enough oxygen is getting to the brain during sleep)
  • Having trouble remembering or learning new things
  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Undergoing consistent mood swings or feeling irritable or depressed and not knowing why
  • Frequently waking up in the night to urinate
  • Waking up with a dry mouth or sore throat

But even those who may not exhibit these symptoms could find themselves on the wrong end of an Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) check if their motor carrier decides now is the time for a check. How do they feel about that?

Current Recommendations and Trucker Opinions

Currently, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Medical Review Board recommends that the FMCSA create a regulation that would require truckers to meet several criteria, which we have reported on before, but of which one includes if a truck driver has a BMI higher than 33, they must be required to undergo OSA testing.

Still, no such regulation has been issued to-date, and under the new administration, it is unlikely such a regulation may see the light of day. This news is music to the ears of many truck drivers who consider mandatory OSA testing a privacy concern.

Truckers also consider a night spent in a testing facility just one other night that they should spend away from their families. In particular, the trucker who sued his carrier felt that one result of the mandatory testing is that a CPAP machine could be ordered, which would then be deducted from his pay.

A Confusing Story on Sleep Apnea

Many question whether truckers are being over diagnosed or sent in for testing when it isn’t necessary. The main reason behind this is that there are several factors that increase the likelihood of someone having sleep apnea.

The truth is, some believe that a lot of clinics are using training and OSA rules to generate additional profit. Take, for example, the trucker above afraid he would have to purchase a CPAP machine. The medical center he would have had to purchase that from likely would have marked it up a bit for the benefit of their own bottom line.

Another question surrounds the use of BMI as a sole indicator. Having a large neck size and a greater BMI does not necessarily put one at greater risk for having sleep apnea. Thus, they should not be the only criteria used when deciding on whether a truck driver should go in for testing.

The fact is, there’s been confusions surrounding sleep apnea at the federal level for a long time. In 2000, 2008 and 2012, the FMCSA received recommendations from the federal Medical Review Board regarding diagnosing and screening for sleep apnea, and there’s been a ton of inconsistency in how these recommendations have been applied.

In 2013, a law was passed requiring the FMCSA to start a rulemaking process allowing industry comment. Then in 2014, the National Registry of Certified Medical Examiners weighted in.

Still, that didn’t clarify the situation, by the fall of 2015, U.S. lawmakers were alerting the FMCSA that training facilities were telling examiners to test for sleep apnea when no test was required. In the same year, the FMCSA issued a bulletin to medical examiners and training organizations that does nothing more than do things like “encourage” and provide medical examiners the ability to “exercise their right to medical judgement.” None of this clarified the situation any further.

Still, we can help shed some light on the issue by answering your burning questions:

  • Will I automatically lose my job if I have sleep apnea? No
  • How long does a diagnostics test take? Generally, one night in a sleep lab or undergoing an at home seep test.
  • What if I do not have health insurance? Although current federal rules require carriers to provide insurance, there are usually state programs that will step in to ensure truck drivers who need to undergo specific testing do so.
  • What are the treatment options for obstructive sleep apnea? Possible treatment options for OSA include weight loss, utilization of a mandibular advancement device, a CPAP or PAP device, breathing therapy, or in extreme situations, surgery.

Sleep Apnea is a Serious Condition, but Don’t Be Afraid

Still, despite court cases, motor carrier mandates and confusing signals from the feds, sleep apnea remains a serious condition that requires consideration. Daytime sleepiness is obviously a problem for those at the wheel of an 80,000-pound Class-8 big rig.

From a personal standpoint, sleep apnea also puts one at risk of everything from high blood pressure and stroke to cognitive problems due to a lack of oxygen to the brain. Heart problems can also result from a lack of sleep.

If you are having these conditions, don’t be afraid to bring it up at your next physical exam. The fear of being diagnosed with sleep apnea isn’t as severe as if you were to fall asleep behind the wheel and cause a terrible accident.

Also, consider this, you aren’t alone. Did you know that 1 in 5 adults are affected by at least mild sleep apnea? As a professional truck driver, never be intimidated or embarrassed regarding a potential sleep apnea diagnosis. It certainly is not the end of the world and nor is it the end of your career.

Approach it with a calm resolve, and you’ll be sure to get the help you need without having to take a ton of time off the road or away from your family, regardless of what the feds or your motor carrier says. Hopefully, in the meantime, we can get some clarification on the matter.

How Can Trucking Company Evaluate Fleet’s Total Cost Of Ownership

The fact is, one of the most critical aspects of running a successful trucking business is properly evaluating your total cost of ownership (TCO). When it comes to your bottom line either sinking into the muck or becoming a shareholder’s dream, a proper evaluation of your TCO will generally determine which way that goes.

Still, evaluating TCO – for any company – can be quite a challenge. So, what’s the problem? Mainly, companies have a hard time figuring out all the different components that go into the total cost of ownership (TCO). When factors that should count towards TCO aren’t measured, a company might not come to a proper judgement on whether their final TCO number is correct or not.

What fleets need to do is learn all the components that need to be calculated to figure out an accurate TCO, and how that TCO can impact the bottom line. Determining TCO enables a fleet to operate in a nimble fashion, in an environment where decisions are made based on comprehensive numbers.

Addressing the Challenge

The proper way to address a TCO analysis is to make accurate comparisons to other fleets of a similar size and makeup as your own. Consider that utilizing generic benchmarks can often lead you down a dead-end street, simply because they are compiled using self-reported data that is very generalized, rather than offering any amount of depth – specifically depth that might apply to your fleet operation.

Here are some examples in which costs are not standardized across the board:

  • Fleet age
  • Maintenance
  • Vehicle application
  • Vehicle utilization
  • Specific financing methods

Furthermore, here are the appropriate questions you need to be asking when you make your comparison:

  • Are you evaluating your fleet against a newer or younger fleet?
  • Is the application in question one of low mileage or high mileage?
  • Is the size of the fleet in question comparable to yours?
  • What types of vehicles are used? I.E. Regional versus OTR versus Last Mile

Once you’ve made these identifications, it’s time to take the first step in quantifying your TCO based on the fundamental components you’ve identified.

Quantifying the Numbers

The most effective approach to categorizing your overall fleet TCO is to break your analysis up into three major components.

We’re going to break this all down for you in a neat series of bullet points that you can save for later:

  • Acquisition
    • Investment and Purchase
    • Financing
      • Interest rate and payment terms
    • Operations
      • Maintenance
        • Contact maintenance
        • Dealer/garage
        • Self-maintenance
        • Miscellaneous maintenance
        • Accidents
      • Administrative
        • Fleet administration
        • General administration
      • Other Overhead
        • Licensing and insurance
        • Legal and taxes
        • Regulations
        • Safety services
        • Employee management
      • Disposal
        • Sales Proceeds
        • Cost of Disposal
        • Taxes on Gains

Once you have quantified the numbers using the system listed above, you have better confidence benchmarking fleet performance. You should also be able to better understand in which areas your TCO numbers may fluctuate.

As an example, financing costs, asset depreciation and other administrative costs may change over time. When evaluating your TCO you’ve got to build in a buffer that will consider any major or minor fluctuation in costs. The last thing you need is a big hit to your bottom line because you didn’t take a major fluctuation into account.

Financing and Sticker Price

When it comes to addressing your TCO, one of the areas that trips fleets up is financing fleet acquisitions. Some pay cash while others make large down payments and choose to finance the rest of the balance. Still others might opt for financing nearly the entire amount and then opting for a balloon payment once the initial terms expire.

The question is this: Should you factor the cost of capital into the total cost of owning the fleet. Consider this: Money is never free. For this reason alone, you should be factoring in the total cost of ownership, even when you are purchasing a vehicle with cash up-front.

Consider this: The cash could be in the bank earning interest or be used for another investment, so factoring cash buys into your TCO is an important part of the process.

Also consider what a tractor or trailer costs to purchase. Then, go beyond that. To determine a more accurate cost, there are three basic components you must consider:

  • The initial investment
  • The capital required
  • The depreciation

Have you considered what interest rate you will be paying? Furthermore, what are the terms of your loan? If you paid the loan off one year faster, would you be saving yourself money in the long wrong. What is your opportunity cost in paying cash? These are all appropriate questions that you must consider as you approach the financing angle of TCO.

As you take a closer look at the financing aspect, also consider your fleet’s purchasing power. The bigger your fleet is, the easier it will be for you to leverage that purchasing power as a procurement advantage in the long-run. A big fleet will have a far bigger advantage when it comes to acquisition costs.

Evaluating Maintenance Costs

When it comes to keeping vehicles on the road and promising on deliverables to your customers, fleet maintenance is incredibly important. But did you realize that maintenance is also a vital component of your TCO analysis? Therefore, it is so important to get the best possible maintenance at the best possible price – whether you decide to go with an in-house option or outsource your maintenance needs.

Also consider that two companies with two totally different fleet sizes will have different maintenance costs to consider in their TCO analysis. As an example, the cost of maintaining a vehicle in year five can be totally different than it can in can in year one. Standardizing fleet age helps you more accurately determine costs over the – pun intended – long haul.

A final factor when considering maintenance costs in your TCO is that increased maintenance and repair costs also affect uptime and reliability. They can have a direct impact on CSA scores and whether a vehicle sits idle or is on the road.

Factoring Asset Depreciation

As we mentioned before, fleets finance their acquisitions differently. It’s in this same way that they approach how they depreciate their assets and estimate salvage value.

Factoring depreciation is a complicated endeavor. As an example, many fleet managers record book depreciation. The problem with this method is that it varies based on the selected depreciable life. Essentially, this means you are not accounting for any expected gains once you’ve reached the end of the holding period.

A better way to approach this is to standardize depreciation costs that selects and applies to all equipment across the board, while also making an estimate of what can be gained once the holding period ends. Of course, a cushion would need to be built in as no one knows exactly what will be gained back at the end of the holding period, but estimating a number is a lot better than including no number at all.

The best way to manage this is to assume a 25 percent per-year depreciation over the holding period. Whereas salvage value at the end of the holding period can generally be assumed to come in around 20 percent of the asset’s original value after five to seven years.

Calculating Administrative Costs

The final piece in the TCO puzzle is in administrative costs. The fact is, it’s easy to overlook indirect costs that are associated with operating a fleet of almost any size.

What are some examples of these administrative costs?

Fleets often forget about their shop and back office when evaluating TCO. Remember, making a proper TCO analysis is about more than just the vehicles being driven.

Administrative costs could even include breakdowns, roadside assistance and repair problems, missed loads and other intangibles that are hard to quantify on the front end. While every operation runs differently evaluating these costs is crucial to determining a proper TCO.

The Final Word

The fact is this: Completing a comprehensive (and correct) TCO analysis is a huge and difficult process. To a fleet – no matter the size – this can seem like a huge beast that they simply cannot tackle. And yet, completing a proper TCO is critical to ensuring you can forecast your finances properly and keep your bottom line intact over the long term.

Does that mean you should outsource your TCO analysis to a third-party provider? The fact is, there are companies out there who will complete this analysis for you. Still, only you have an inside view as to what is going on inside your fleet, from top-to-bottom. There is also an associated cost with having a third-party complete this analysis for you.

In the end, no matter what you do, completing a TCO analysis is critical to any fleet, no matter the size. So, however you consider getting it done, just get it done.

Tackling The Nation’s Rest Area Problems of Truckers

If there’s one thing that truckers and industry insiders agree on, it’s that our nation’s rest areas and parking options need some serious improvement. When addressing the infrastructure question, additional services at rest stops needs to be part of the equation.

With forces in Capital Hill and the White House preparing for a big fight on infrastructure spending, whether it’s between Democrats and Republicans or within forces in each party, one can only wonder where funding for rest areas will fall once the dust settles.

Fortunately, there are some historical precedents to take a look at here, as well as near-constant themes always haunting this issue. Let’s dig a little deeper.

An Old Issue

The fact is, the issue of rest area availability – including commercial activities at rest stops – predates Trump’s arrival in Washington. The Federal Highway Administration has been seeking comments on the issue for some time. Specific items of inquiry include produce sales and additional vending machine at truck stops, in addition to a request for more parking.

Although a public-private partnership to support greater access and options at the nation’s rest stops seems like a no-brainer, it isn’t supported by everyone. The truck stop trade group, National Association of Truck Stop Owners (NATSO) says the idea would undercut highway-based businesses.

Still, the main issue remains, and that’s available parking. It’s no secret that available parking at truck stops has been shrinking steadily for years. Not only is additional parking important, but truck stops must be able to generate profit while being a welcome place for truckers to stop, with access to both food and basic services.

Parking is a Constant Issue

While truck stops continue to add more parking, it never seems to catch up with the current demand. Compounding the problem is zoning restrictions and local resistance whenever a truck stop tries to expand their trucking options.

The problem has gotten so bad that major truck stop chains have begun selling parking reservations. Consider that highway capacity and maintenance hasn’t kept up with the increase in freight traffic, and it’s obvious where this is turning into a serious issue.

So, what’s the solution? Some are pointing to greater rest stop commercialization as a potential answer, but is it? Let’s dig a little deeper.

Commercializing Rest Stops

Ask any number of truckers or fleet managers if they support commercial activities if it helps to create more options, from commercial services to parking, and they’ll respond with a resounding affirmative.

While NATSO opposed more commercialization of rest stops, some think the organization’s concern is misplaced. The specific argument here is that if state-facilitated rest stops are limited to such an extent that they may not even be considered “truck stops”, where’s the harm?

The fact is, a trucker won’t pass up a decent meal at a truck stop just to get a vending machine snack at a state-run facility. No matter which way you slice it, there simply aren’t enough places for truckers to park, so whatever can be done to improve the situation, whether it’s commercialization or otherwise, should be welcomed.

Parking must be considered as one of the basic utilities of both public and private truck stops. The current model – which NATSO is in favor of – of not expanding enroute parking, could be a sign of the organization’s self-interest and doesn’t seem sustainable.

As truckers increasingly look for places to park amid a shrinking parking landscape, industry insiders must consider taking extraordinary measures to address the situation, even if it means going against what groups like NATSO are proposing, which is really nothing more than the status quo.

Self-Driving Trucks Still Have A Long Way To Go

Although many in the trucking manufacturing industry say that self-driving trucks will be a reality waiting just around the proverbial corner, it looks like the vehicles still have a far way to go before we see full implementation on our nation’s roads.

The fact is, legislation that would make it easier to adopt autonomous driving technology on commercial motor vehicles has yet to gain any traction on Capitol Hill. Will this change as the future gets closer?

Although the House passed a bipartisan voice vote to help speed the development of self-driving cars, the legislation, called the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution (SELF DRIVE) Act, says nothing of commercial motor vehicles.

As written in the legislation verbiage, the Act would assist in the rollout of fully self-driving cars using federal pre-emption of state authority. This basically means that car manufacturers would be exempted from safety standards that are not applicable to self-driving technology. The legislation would also permit the deployment of up to 100,000 self-driving cars annually over the next few years.

Some think that commercial vehicles were cut out of the bill as a nod to labor unions who see self-driving vehicles as a threat to jobs. In fact, the Teamsters Union lobbied very hard to ensure commercial motor vehicles were left out of the bill.

According to a statement from the union, “It is vital that Congress ensure that any new technology is used to make transportation safer and more effective, not used to put workers at risk on the job or destroy livelihoods.”

Movements in the Senate

Even more telling is that the Senate has yet to take up any bill or undertaken any debate surrounding self-driving vehicles of any kind, whether passenger vehicle or commercial motor vehicle. Still, that doesn’t mean they don’t intend to.

Senator John Thune (R-SD), who is the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is aiming to hold a hearing, titled “Transportation Innovation: Automated Trucks and our Nation’s Highways.” The hearing aims to consider the benefits of self-driving technology and why commercial motor vehicles have been left out of self-driving legislation thus far.

The committee notes state that the hearing is intended to “examine the benefits of automated truck safety technology as well as the potential impacts on jobs and the economy.”

It was also outlined that excluding commercial motor vehicles has been an ongoing topic of discussion in bipartisan efforts to draft self-driving vehicle legislation.

Senator Thune went on to say, in introducing the legislation, that “self-driving technology for trucks and other large vehicles has emerged as a pivotal issue in Congress’ attempt to help usher in a new era of transportation. This hearing will offer all members of the Commerce Committee the opportunity to hear expert testimony on the future highway safety benefits of applying automated technology to trucks as well as perspectives on excluding trucks from legislation affecting small passenger vehicles.”

Scheduled to testify before the committee on the viability of autonomous commercial motor vehicles are Deborah Hersman, the National Safety Council President and CEO and former chair of the National Transportation Safety Board. Representing trucking interests at the hearing will be Chris Spears, President and CEO of the ATA.

The ATA has already outlined a position regarding this topic, as outlined by the association’s spokesperson Sean McNally, who was recently quoted as saying that the “ATA supports the development of this technology and we don’t think it makes sense to write legislation without it applying to all vehicles, and that includes commercial trucks which account for 33.8 million registered vehicles and 450 billion miles traveled annually.”

He went on to say that the ATA views “this legislation, and its soon-to-be introduced companion in the Senate, as a roadmap toward a future that includes more automated vehicles, and that map should provide direction for all highway users. It continues to be our belief that the technologies being developed today will assist, rather than supplant, drivers on the road.”

What’s the Deal with Autonomous Trucks?

When you consider the idea of an autonomous truck, it shouldn’t be hard to also imagine motorists being terrified of the idea of a “driverless” truck wreaking havoc on a highway. After all, a heavy duty commercial motor vehicle can be incredibly dangerous if something were to go wrong.

Where truckers are concerned, imagine if they were to hear that a fleet they work for was considering opting for a self-driving fleet. Could you imagine a greater motivation for the employees of that fleet to make a drive for union representation?

While it is likely that the average motorist will eventually embrace the idea of a self-driving car, minivan or pickup truck, there will likely be a steep learning curve. Even more, smart highway and roadway technology still has a long way to go before we see this become a reality.

Still, many truck drivers worry that once autonomous technology becomes roadworthy and compliant, they may end up out of a job. Fortunately, this may be a misplaced concerned, especially in the age of semi-autonomous commercial motor vehicles.

Many believe that the big push will be towards semi-autonomous vehicles before fully autonomous vehicles. As we have reported in the past, semi-autonomous trucks will likely still require an in-person truck driver to handle driving duties once the truck exits the highway and proceeds onto city streets.

Another consideration factoring into this debate is the ongoing truck driver shortage. It isn’t out of the question to ask if fleets will migrate towards autonomous technology as the truck driver employment squeeze continues to become more acute. If it isn’t looking like we will have enough human drivers to safely transport our goods across the nation, motor carriers may find this technology more appealing.

Growth in the (Semi) Autonomous Market

What is a given is that the global self-driving market is expected to balloon by 40% by 2027. This represents upwards of $126.8 billion by 2027. According to market research firm Infoholic, “The increasing investments from the automakers, the rising consumer demands, and technology advancements in the automotive industry have led to the increased demand for driverless vehicles.”

Their research paper went on to say that “in the current market scenario, self-driving is not just limited to cars but is also gaining popularity among public transport and trucks. Thus, most of the enterprise sectors including retail, manufacturing, transportation, and logistics will prefer autonomous vehicles for delivery purposes in the future.”

The report goes on to segment the market and analyze it by specific product, vehicle and operating type. It also parses the data out by operational region. Software, hardware and services are expected to dominate the autonomous and semi-autonomous markets for the foreseeable future.

According to the Infoholic report, “The software segment is mainly driven by the fully autonomous vehicles when compared to semi-autonomous vehicles. Hardware providers have new business opportunities due to different types of components that will be used in autonomous vehicles. Additionally, hardware market share is expected to drop in the coming years as the adoption rate of autonomous vehicles increases.”

If you look at the North American region as the leading theater for autonomous vehicle adoption, then look no further. According to Infoholic, North America is “an attractive destination for key stakeholders due to the availability of high-end infrastructure, rising investments from automakers, and government initiatives.”

The Asia Pacific region will also be vital to determining how this industry develops. China, India and Japan are all looking to lead the market in these technologies. Indeed, China has already stated the lofty goal of phasing out gasoline and diesel vehicles sometime in the near future.

India’s government has also expressed interest in supporting electric and autonomous vehicles. Partnerships and merger and acquisition strategies will play a big role in how much these technologies are adopted, not just in North America and China, but globally.

The Final Word

There are a lot of stakeholders that have plenty to consider when it comes to the autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicle discussion. From truck drivers who fear being left in the dust as robots take over to fleets who may seek to cut costs and increase efficiency by employing these technologies.

Indeed, both unions and lawmakers have a lot to consider when putting legislation to the table governing self-driving technologies. Will industry lobbyists win out? Are technology companies up to the task of ensuring these advanced self-driving technologies are safe?

There is plenty of debate to go around. Right now, only time will tell if the industry will see any traction in the use of these technologies, whether now or moving forward, and there are plenty who are happy about that.

The Latest On The ELD Rule From Washington And Beyond

A new day brings a new slew of movements in Washington regarding the ELD mandate. Congress has been toying with the idea of doing away with it in committee for some time, but it still wasn’t clear whether the rule would survive or not.

The fact is, many trucking companies have already been preparing, partnering with ELD providers, and getting their fleets ready for the coming mandate. Still, all that could change depending on what happens in our nation’s capital.

We recently reported on an amendment sponsored by Rep. Brian Babin (R.-TX) which aimed to prevent funding of the electronic logging device (ELD) rule for almost one year. That amendment was voted down on September 6 by a House floor vote of 246-173.

Considering the House is the less deliberative and more unpredictable chamber of Congress, it could have gone either way. With only four months to go, measures are still being introduced to derail the rule.

The first rule under consideration was H.R. 3282, the ELD Extension Act of 2017. This measure was first put to table back in July and was initially designed to delay the full implementation of the ELD mandate for two years. While it attracted 45 co-sponsors, it was still voted down.

The next shot across the bow of the ELD rule came from Representative Babin in early September. This anti-ELD amendment was attached to an unrelated bill, H.R. 3354, the Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act of 2018.

This measure would defund the ELD mandate, thus delaying its rollout through September 30 of 2018. The rider specifically mentions prohibiting funds from implementing or enforcing the rule during the time.

Since the amendment has been cleared by the House Rules Committee, it will be scheduled for consideration in mid-September.

Trucking Groups Weigh In

What is notable about these attempts is that nearly every stakeholder group is in favor of the ELD rule. The only outlier is the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association. What does this mean? There is likely to be a lot of lobbying to keep the effective date where it currently stands, at December 18.

A representative from the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) recently stated that delaying the ELD mandate would “further interrupt the actions of a progressive trucking industry that continually places safety at its forefront and stresses continued compliance with its daily operations. The truckload industry does not support this bill or any delay in ELD implementation.”

The Trucking Alliance also sent a letter to Congress, arguing that the Babin amendment “ignores federal court rulings (all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court) upholding the ELD mandate and ignores thousands of comments in support of this new technology. These ELDs accurately track the number of hours that drivers operate their trucks, replacing the paper logbooks that are easily falsified.”

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) bluntly came out and said that the “ATA strongly opposes efforts to delay this important rule.” The President of the ATA even went so far as to pen an op-ed on the website of the Huffington Post arguing that the rule should be implemented as planned without further delay to the present implementation date in December.

In the op-ed ATA President and CEO Chris Spear stated that the ELD rule has been “debated for nearly a decade. It has been approved by Congress three times, and upheld by federal courts. Any attempt to mislabel this as a ‘bad regulation’ in the final weeks before implementation is intentionally misleading.”

The article goes on to say that delaying or squashing the rule could “create more uncertainty for the trucking industry as we seek to plan and make investments in this important new technology.”

Most trucking advocacy groups expect to see bipartisan opposition to any major changes to the ELD mandate as it currently exists.

More notable is that there has been no companion legislation or attempts to delay or defund the mandate in the Senate. So even if the House does pass a measure, it will have to carry through reconciliation and make it through the Senate, which is not guaranteed.

As it stands, it looks like the ELD mandate will go into effect as planned in December. Now the question is how will the mandate be enforced. Trucking companies need to know that enforcement will be fair across the board. Let’s dig a little deeper.

Looking at the ELD Mandate Enforcement

Whether you already have ELD devices installed, they are on order or you are still considering the different options available on the market, you likely still have plenty of questions regarding what exactly will happen once the mandate drops on December 18.

According to Joe DeLorenzo, director of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Office of Enforcement and Compliance, the government is ready to start enforcing the rule once it goes into effect.

There is a misconception out there that the government may not be ready to fully enforce the amendment. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVFA) and the FMCSA have been working together on announcing how they will approach truck drivers who are running without an ELD.

Each jurisdiction will have a say on how strictly they will enforce the rule and how they will enforce it, whether they are put out of service or simply fined or cited. The FMCSA recognizes that this is a big change and has allowed time for organizations to get up to speed before doing any major enforcement operations.

Of course, the FMCSA will be looking to see if motor carriers are showing persistent violations, in which case it is up to them on whether they will leverage penalties or open an investigation. This doesn’t mean motor carriers should be taking advantage of the FMCSA’s initial easygoing approach.

Looking at State Rules and eRODS

When the OOIDA filed a petition asking the FMCSA to delay implementing the rule, they specifically stated that “26 states have not yet incorporated an electronic logging regulation into state law and are not authorized to enforce the rule until they do so.”

According to the FMCSA, in response to that petition, states have rules by which they must operate under the program. With every new rulemaking, states must work closely with the government on enforcement.

Still, that isn’t the only concern. Some have openly wondered if roadside inspection officials will have the electronic records of duty status (eRODS) in place to interpret the data from the ELDs. While ELD providers have been testing to make sure their data files can communicate with roadside inspection systems, it looks as though full integration is cutting it close.

According to the FMCSA, they are working on the final issues of deployment. States are currently working on training plans that the FMCSA expects to be in place by November and fully ready for the December 18 deadline.

The FMCSA has stated that they recognized the use of data transfer may not work every time, so the ELD specification should always contain a backup, whether it can be printed out or displayed on the ELD itself. Either way, if data transfer fails, there should always be a secondary way of delivering the necessary information.

Since the ELD rule is primarily meant to address hours of service compliance, the electronic data transfer will make it easy to enforce, but will not be necessary should there be a complication.

What’s more important to consider is that there are exemptions to the ELD rule. In some circumstances, your fleet may not be required to adhere to them. Let’s look at when those circumstances are.

When You’re Exempt

There are many different exemptions to the ELD rule, all you need to do is know them. Generally, the ELD exemptions fall under two categories:

  • Existing rule exemptions: The 100-air-mile radius and agricultural exemptions.
  • New rule exemptions: The eight-in-30 rule and older engine exemption.

The new rule exemption category is unique to the ELD rule. The agency placed a pre-2000 exemption into the mandate because there are a number of older engines and vehicle types that may not have the onboard technology necessary to support ELD installation.

The exemption refers to the engine model year, as opposed to the vehicle model year. So if you are running an older engine on a newer chassis, you still may qualify for the exemption, depending on the age of the engine.

The 8-in-30 rule refers to the fact that some operators are only required to prepare paper logs fewer than 8 days out of every 30. In this case, due to the limited nature of reporting, the operator will not be required to have an ELD. It is important that operators pay very close attention to this exemption. It is easy to think you may qualify for it, but perhaps you don’t. It requires preparation to be sure.

In the end, the ELD mandate looks to be landing on December 18, regardless of what representatives in the House try to do. Fleets must be prepared and aware of exemptions they may or may not be qualified for.