One Year Later, What’s Been the Real Impact of ELDs?

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A year ago, the entire trucking industry was busy debating and preparing for the impact of the congressionally-mandated electronic logging device (ELD) rule. The rule required that truck drivers replace paper logbooks with electronic devices as a way to track hours of service. Many in the industry pushed for its delay all the way until the end. In fact, the issue went as high as the U.S. Supreme Court, which chose not to hold hearings. On December 18, 2017, the new mandate took effect, and full enforcement began on April 1, 2018. Now is a good time to look back at the impact of ELDs and how drivers and carriers have adapted to the mandate

Pre-ELD Predictions Ran the Gamut

Many who opposed, and perhaps still oppose the ELD mandate, suggested that the move from paper logs to electronic logs would be a burden. Small fleet owners and owner operators were most concerned. Some argued that it was a privacy concern, and potentially violated the fourth amendment. The courts didn’t agree with that. Many predicted that rates would increase. And rates have increased, but it is unknown how much can be attributed to the ELD mandate. Other aspects effecting increases could be from higher freight volume or a lack of skilled drivers. Some suggested that the ELD mandate would exacerbate the driver shortage by pushing some drivers out of the industry and by putting hard limits on hours of service. Others pointed to the $495 per truck cost to install the ELDs and how that could adversely affect smaller carriers in particular. On the other side, those in favor of the mandate supported the new rule as a way to make highways safer for all drivers. They said it would keep overly fatigued drivers off the road. Proponents also claimed that ELDs would improve accuracy of drive times by moving away from unreliable, and easily editable written logs. It’s worth noting that there were 30,274 false log violations in 2017, an increase of 20 percent over five years. The FMCSA went as far as to claim it would save carriers $1.6 billion annually in paperwork reductions and another $395 million in crash reduction costs.

Have ELDs Worked?

Whether ELDs had their intended effect probably depends on your personal perspective and which side you might have taken prior to the December 2017 deadline. And, it will likely take a few years to measure and determine how ELDs have affected:
  • Motorist safety
  • The $1.6 billion in paperwork savings
  • Financial Burden on small truckers
  • Adding time to freight movements
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) conducted a survey in January 2018. The survey had 2,000 respondents. More than 70 percent of the respondents said that the ELDs increased fatigue, which was the opposite of what the ELDs were intended to do. Respondents cited being pushed to drive longer hours and at an increased rate led to increased fatigue. And, perhaps the biggest problem truckers attribute to ELDs is parking. More than 80 percent of respondents said finding parking is harder now than before the ELD mandate. Keep in mind the OOIDA is far from unbiased in this argument, as they are one of the groups that challenged the mandate in court. On the other side of the debate, proponents of ELD will point to the decrease in hours of service (HOS) violations as a sign that the ELD mandate is working. In June, the FMCSA reported that HOS violations, as a percentage of inspections, were down 50 percent. Of course, the FMCSA also isn’t unbiased as it is the regulatory agency tasked with implementing and enforcing the rule. Another set of data to look at is how the ELD mandate has impacted transport times across shipping lanes. A February 2018 study conducted by Zipline Logistics looked at lanes of 450 to 550 miles. It showed that transit times rose from 1.05 days to 1.22 days. That is a 16.2 percent increase following the ELD mandate going into effect on December 18. On shipments of 750 to 1,000 miles, transit times increased by 10 percent. What this study suggests is that truckers now have to follow the hours-of-service limits more strictly. This has added more time, which means increased cost. It also puts a greater focus on the driver shortage issue.

Who’s Exempt?

Quite a few truck drivers are still exempt from the ELD mandate. Here’s a look at those segments that still don’t have to install ELDs.
  • Trucks with pre-2000 engines. This is specific to the engine, not the chassis. The FMCSA had initially said that pre-2000 trucks would be exempt based on the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), but later revised that to be vehicles with engines that were built in 1999 or earlier regardless of the VIN.
  • Trucks using AOBRDs (until December 2019). This is an extension, not an exemption. The FMCSA gave a short-term extension to trucks who had an automatic on-board recording device (AOBRDs) installed prior to the December 18, 2017 deadline.
  • Drivers who use the short-haul, timecard exceptions. These drivers are not required to keep records of duty status (RODS) or use ELDs.
  • Drivers who are required to keep RODS, but not more than 8 days within any 30-day period.
  • Drivers conducting a drive-away-tow-away operation. For instance, if the vehicle being driven is the commodity being delivered, or if the vehicle being transported is a motorhome or recreational vehicle trailer. Such vehicles aren’t required to use ELDS.
  • Certain agriculture shipments. If the commodities are being shipped within a 150-air mile radius from their source, the truck doesn’t require an ELD. This exemption also applies to the movement of supplies and equipment for agricultural use from a wholesale or retail distribution point.

What’s Next?

The ELD Mandate ranked as a top issue for commercial drivers and motor carriers, according to the ATRI Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry report. The October 2018 report indicates that trucking companies and drivers are still adjusting to the mandate, even months after the enforcement deadline. What the ELD mandate really brings attention to are the Hours of Service (HOS) rules, which is now the number two issue for carriers and number three issue for motor carriers, according to ATRI. With paper logs, there was wiggle room that allowed truck drivers to make their way down the road to find parking, but with ELDs, there is less (or perhaps no) wiggle room. HOS rules, set by the FMCSA, limit driving times to no more than 11 hours a day within a 14-hour workday. Drivers must then be off duty for 10 consecutive hours before they can drive again. With the use of electronic logging, many drivers have complained that they are put in the situation to try and make their destination before their drive-time clock runs out. Some argue that this goes against the original purpose of HOS rules to make roads safer. In September 2018, the FMCSA sought public comment on revising certain areas of the current HOS regulations. The FMCSA is looking at expanding areas of the 14-hour on duty limitations. Some areas up for discussion are drivers who encounter adverse driving conditions could gain two additional hours of drive-time. Another is a revision to the 30-minute break time for truck drivers after eight continuous hours of driving. A third is to reinstate the option for splitting the required 10-hour off-duty rest break for drivers who operate trucks with a sleeper-berth compartment. The intent of the FMCSA is to look at the rules and evaluate potential changes so as to alleviate any unnecessary burdens being placed on drivers. The FMCSA has not indicated when any changes would be announced.

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