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Truckers – Say Goodbye to Paper Logs

Well folks, it’s official, on December 10 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced the long-awaited final rule regarding interstate truck drivers and electronic logging devices (ELD). The rule, which will go into effect in 2017, details specifications and mandates regarding ELD usage. The moral? Get ready to say goodbye to paper logs.

According to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, “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.”

It’s easy for someone to throw a few soundbites out there, but what does the ELD rule actually mean for truckers? And has the writing already been on the wall for a while now? Let’s dig a little deeper.

A Story of Logs

The fact is, complex logs for on- and off-duty truck drivers have been made with pencil and paper since 1938, and are very hard to verify. Although ELDs originally hit the scene in the 1980s, it’s been a story of trial-and-error regarding their adoption.

Early adoption of ELDs came under a very different Hours-of-Service (HOS) regime. But still, the problem of unexpected occurrences remained.

During the time of paper logs, any delays, whether it be traffic, unloading, or spending too much time in the bathroom, compromised the round trip. If everything went perfectly the trucker would return with a few minutes to spare.

When things went less smoothly, however, truckers could make minor adjustments to their paper logs to account for the irregularities of life. It wasn’t cheating, per se, perhaps only 10 – 20 minutes’ worth of adjustments, but illegal just the same. With ELDs, the paradigm shifts.

A Cautionary Tale

The transition to ELDs will be hardest for smaller fleets that don’t have the capacity to relay or repower loads whose truck drivers have expired the available time on the clock. But even larger fleets have not been without their share of problems.

One well-known 300-truck fleet who does retail store deliveries for big-box retailers implemented ELDs in the late-80s and suffered greatly for it in the beginning. The fleet knew that ELDs would make it impossible to adjust for delays, so they created a video explaining to their customers how the HOS rules and ELDs would impact the operation.

The company also let its customers know it intended to increase its rates 10 percent across the board and pay that 10 percent to its drivers to make up for lost miles or revenue. Furthermore, it announced it was going to add a day to most of its delivery times.

What happened? They immediately lost 40 percent of their business within the first few months, although all of their truck drivers stayed. But within a year, after ELDs became more commonplace, almost all of their customers returned and were happy to pay the higher fee for excellent service.

How to Prepare

The good news is that fleets have between now and 2017 to prepare. They will need to work closely with their customers to ensure a smooth transition without a major loss of business. Small fleets will have to successfully adapt to the new reality and ensure their customers are on board with them.

The fact is little adjustments can add up in a big way. While truck drivers may use a few hours of potential driving time as a result of ELD adoption, the primary question is when those hours will disappear. Quite frankly, it could mean the difference between a quick repositioning or an annoying layover, or perhaps making the delivery one day before you normally would. These kinds of changes can have a net reduction in operating time and make a big impact.

For small fleets who are worried these changes will put their business model at risk, there is one surefire way to make sure the rubber stays on the road. Start logging your paper logs as you are now, while you have a chance to work out the problems associated with no leeway. Don’t wait until the new rule is already here to take the action you should make today.

Hours of Safety and the Federal Highway Bill

With the recent high profile crash between a Wal-Mart truck driver and limousine in New Jersey resulting in the death of comedian James McNair and hospitalization of actor Tracy Morgan, hours of service is back in the national spotlight. And while any accident resulting in death or injury is an absolute tragedy, it can be noted that current fatalities from accidents involving large trucks remains below historical trends, according to the most recent statistics.

Here is a brief recap of the new provisions that were put into effect July 2013

  • Average work week was limited to 70 hours, a drop from 82 hours prior to the change.
  • Establishes a 30-minute break requirement during the first eight hours of a given shift.
  • Provides an allowance for truck drivers who reach the 70 hour maximum of driving within a given week. This allowance allows for a driver to resume provided they have rested for 24 consecutive hours, including at least two nights from 1:00am-5:00am.

The 34-Hour Restart Rule

The new debate surrounds that last provision, specifically the 34-hour restart rule. Days before the accident in New Jersey, U.S. Senator Susan Collins of Maine, as part of her work on the Senate Appropriations Committee, pushed an amendment through that would block the 34-hour restart provisions. In proposing the amendment Collins stated that it is “clear that the rules have had unintended consequences that are not in best interest of carriers, shippers and the public.”

Although the goal of this new rule making was to reduce what the Department of Transportation calls “excessively long work hours,” the DOT also estimates that the new rule could increase annual industry expenses by approximately $470 million. And while they also estimate that there will be an overall net gain of $280 million due to driver health and other mitigating factors, there are other more nebulous consequences to consider as well.

In an interview with The City Wire, Chris Spear, the chief of legislative affairs for the American Trucking Association (ATA) stated that one such consequence of the new rule is that it would increase the likelihood that drivers are on the road during peak driving times rather than letting them drive at hours when there is less traffic on the roads.

Officially the ATA supports suspending the restrictions, though they do support mandatory use of electronic logging devices to track drivers’ compliance with the new requirements. In addressing the recent controversy surrounding the crash in New Jersey the ATA notes that fatigue is a factor is less than 10% of all truck crashes.

The Federal Highway Bill

The DOT estimates that by the end of fiscal year 2014 the Highway Trust Fund will have run out of money. This does not just affect the highways that we use every day in our line of work, but also how the trucking industry is taxed to support continued funding of national infrastructure improvements. While back in May the industry was cautiously optimistic about the Highway Bill, the new 10-month extension has drawn fire from industry groups, with the ATA calling it “ill-conceived.”

The bid by conservatives in the house and senate reduces funding for the federal-aid highway program and drastically reduces the federal gas tax from 18.4 to 3.7 cents a gallon. The worry on the part of industry is what kind of impact these changes may have on state and local government. How the money in the Highway Trust Fund would be replaced is also a matter of contention.

Because congress has been unable to provide long-term stable funding for transportation, the ATA argues that the current legislation would “prove disastrous to state and local governments’ ability to maintain and improve their transportation systems.” Currently the ATA has been joined by 16 national groups, including AAA and the US Chamber of Commerce in opposing the legislation.

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