Electronic Logging Device (ELD) or E-Log Debate Heats Up

With the release of a new report showing that the use of an electronic logging device (ELD), or e-log, does not promote driver harassment, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) has drawn new battle lines in an old war.

The New Rules

On March 13, 2014 the FMCSA released proposed rule changes that would require all drivers of commercial motor vehicles who file a Record of Duty Status (RODS) to equip an ELD for tracking hours of service. This rule change would affect around 3.1 million trucks and 3.4 million drivers.

Some of the proposed changes included:

  • That a truck’s engine be synced with the ELD to capture and store the following data elements:
    1. Date
    2. Time
    3. CMV location
    4. Engine hours
    5. Driver identification
    6. Vehicle identification
    7. Motor carrier identification
  •  That there are adequate communication methods installed for data transfer to law enforcement officers. A wireless and web based component is also required, but primary methods listed were Bluetooth, USB, email, or paper.
  •  A “grandfather” clause for current devices that may not meet the new standards. The expiration of this clause would occur four years after the publishing of the final rule.

Though the final rule won’t be published until next year and full compliance is not required until 2017, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) immediately came out in opposition, citing a study the FMCSA itself had done in May.

In the study the FMCSA claimed a “clear safety benefit” to using electronic logs. The OOIDA countered with two charges:

  1. That the study was “skewed” toward larger carriers (of the eleven carriers participating in the study, nine had more than 1,000 trucks).
  2. That there was a danger of driver harassment from carriers by mandating ELD use.

It seemed after that initial dust-up, the debate quieted down, at least until this month when the FMCSA set out to address those concerns.

The New Report

Released November 13, 2014 and entitled “Attitudes of Truck Drivers and Carriers on the Use of Electronic Logging Devices,” the new report concludes that driver harassment from ELD use is minimal. The FMCSA also attempted to address the prior study’s sampling issue by interviewing over 600 truck drivers at 24 truck stops around the country.

The study found that:

  • The use of e-logs did not increase carrier harassment compared to paper logs.
  • The majority of drivers reported having less paperwork to do.
  • Time is saved and hours compliance is easier.
  • The devices prevent them from doing the job the way they want.
  • They feel less independent.

With the release of this data, old battle lines have been redrawn and new voices are lending their weight to the issue. The OOIDA responded to the study by calling it “limited” and that “according to the data, mandated ELDs could mean nearly 300,000 truck drivers would experience harassment issues on a regular basis.” But could the OOIDA be isolated in its opposition?

As the final rule gets closer to its 2015 publishing, the American Trucking Association (ATA) and Trucking Alliance have come out saying that they agree with the findings in the new study. Both groups are arguing that the use of ELDs could potentially decrease driver harassment, rather than increase it, as the OOIDA fears.

The Trucking Alliance also tried to point to other benefits of ELDs in saying that “mandatory ELDs will help make truck drivers’ jobs easier,” and that “paper logbooks are prone to mistakes and are easily falsified to report fewer hours than the driver actually worked.”

Rob Abbot, VP of safety policy for the ATA points out that these tools “empower [drivers] to show that their carrier encouraged them to drive when tired or to break the rules.” In this way ELDs can assist in vindicating drivers who are being pressured by carriers.

This is a complicated argument that has shifted alliances among the industry and regulators. The comment period is over and now everyone waits for the rule’s final publication early next year. Is it possible to satisfy all parties or will new battle lines be drawn? Stay tuned.

 

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