The trucking industry is preparing to adjust to the federal Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate, which is set to take effect in December 2017. The controversial rule requires nearly all truckers to install an ELD to log their hours of service (HOS)and replace the paper logs that have been in use for decades. An ELD plugs directly into a truck’s diagnostic port and automatically records engine and driver activity, leaving drivers with no chance to “fudge” their hours. Reactions to the rule have run the gamut from enthusiastic advocacy, with companies eagerly unveiling ELDs and related software, to angry truckers who feel that the rule is an invasion of their privacy, and may impede their ability to make a living. The reality of ELD implementation will most likely fall between the two extremes, depending both on the specifics of individual trucking operations, and their willingness to prepare for it.
ELD adoption stands to cost trucking companies in three ways: the initial purchase of the devices themselves, the subscription services used to maintain them, and the expenses associated with productivity. On average, ELDs cost between $100 and $800 per unit, with some offering only bare-bones HOS information, while others are compatible with Android and Apple devices and capable of providing a whole host of metrics, including fuel efficiency, battery voltage, and idling time.
Another source of confusion is the ELD mandate’s failure to create a cohesive policy framework for dealing with violations. Contrary to the worst fears of truckers, ELDs will not automatically send reports of HOS violations to law enforcement, but as of now, the issuing of citations is left largely up to the discretion of individual officers, who are themselves new to the technology. If used correctly, ELDs should save truckers money on fines by warning them when they are approaching their HOS limit and allowing them to pull over safely. But as Truckinginfo cautions in their excellent run-down on the issue, companies should allow for some growing pains, and prior to making the transition “it’s a good idea to first get everyone, both drivers and supervisors, operating as close to 100% legal as possible on paper logs.”
While this technology represents a significant investment for trucking companies, many drivers have candidly admitted that the true cost of ELDs will be an inability to go on falsifying their HOS logs. Drayage drivers may be the most unfair victims of this consequence, in that they have to contend with hours of wait time as they pick up containers, which they will no longer be able to list as “off-duty.” Hopefully, improved technology across the board will help address this inefficiency and get drivers on the road more quickly, but there will certainly be an adjustment period. As for the productivity lost to more accurate HOS accounting, those concerns may be overblown for truckers who are at least attempting to obey the law. In fact, some truckers who have already made the switch reported increased productivity, since ELDs report accurate stop times, whereas paper logs round up to the nearest fifteen minutes.
Despite the costs, ELDs have the potential to offer savings in other forms. Insurance companies such as Sentry are offering lower rates for drivers with ELDs, and decreased paperwork can free up time for both drivers and office personnel. Most importantly though, is the improved safety which was the primary reason for the ELD mandate in the first place. The FMCSA estimates that ELDs will prevent 562 injuries and save 26 lives per year by keeping exhausted drivers off the road.
Some truckers are searching for a way around the ELD rule. Overdrive online reports that there has been an increased demand for pre-2000 trucks–which are exempt from the ELD requirement–especially among smaller fleets. Other drivers have sworn that they will simply refuse to comply or leave trucking entirely, though a mass exodus from the industry seems unlikely. Still others are pinning their hopes on the Supreme Court to overturn the rule, or counting on President Trump to make good on his promise to roll back regulations, and do away with it himself. But for the most part, the industry is (sometimes grudgingly) accepting the change, and searching for a silver lining in the increased visibility and accuracy offered by ELDs.