A recent Congressional mandate has instituted the use of electronic devices to ensure truckers throughout the country comply with rules that regulate the hours drivers may operate their vehicles. Proponents say the technology helps level the economic playing field by making it harder to skirt the rules to gain an unfair advantage.
There are 16,000 Washington-based trucking companies, all of which must comply with the recently enacted federal regulations on how drivers log their hours. The electronic logging device (ELD) rule requires truckers to use ELDs to track records of duty status (RODS) data, along with physical logbooks.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) policies regulate the number of hours truckers and passenger vehicles can operate. Under FMCSA rules, truckers are only allowed to drive 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty, and they are restricted to driving 60 or 70 hours in 7 or 8 consecutive days.
Prior to ELDs, truckers only relied on a physical logbook to track their hours. Although the ELD rule was finalized in December 2015, some companies have recently raised concerns about its financial impact and decreased productivity, enough so that President Donald Trump last year allowed more time for truckers to comply.
However, industry members testifying at a January 11 work session of the House Transportation Committee argued that ELDs have helped better enforce the rules by preventing truckers from “cheating” by working beyond the hour restrictions and falsifying their logbooks.
“It is an electronic log book that you cannot cheat on – at least not yet,” Washington State Patrol Captain Michael Dahl said. He is with WSDP’s Motor Carrier Safety Division, which enforces trucking regulations.
There are 72 approved ELD devices available on the market today, which activate when the vehicle ignition key is turned on. However, the device only tracks hours under certain conditions, including when the truck is idling or moving at less than five miles per hour.
“They can still drive the same number of hours in a day and in a week,” Dahl said. “The difference is …humans can’t change what the computer says. When it says you’re done at 11 hours, you can’t cheat on your paper log book. You’ve got to stop driving, and we can check that.”
Additionally, complaints that the rule was added suddenly doesn’t fit with the timeline, he said. “Anyone now that says: ‘We didn’t know this was coming,’ that is just not accurate.”
He added that ELDs protect drivers pressured by their employers to break the rules that regulate work hours.
“Some of these drivers are taking a load from point a to point b, and they call their dispatcher and say: ‘Listen I’m out of hours’. And they (dispatchers) say: ‘Actually no, you’re not out of hours; if you want to get paid finish the drive,’ and now they’re driving past hours. This thing (ELD) helps us help that driver say: ‘I’m not going anywhere,’ and it can’t harm them with the company.”
Dahl also mentioned that there is leeway for truckers stuck in bad traffic. “If you’re a little over, we let officers decide or have discretion on how to deal with that. We’re not going to hit them with a big, fat ticket.”
Dahl’s observations were matched by testimony provided by Washington Trucking Association Executive Vice President Sheri Call, who told panel members that for some carriers complaining about productivity loss, the reality is that “their drivers were speeding everywhere.”
“In other extreme cases, we’re hearing of companies losing 20 to 50 percent productivity,” she said. “And the first question you really have to ask yourself is: ‘If they’re losing 50 percent productivity…were (they) actually operating legally within hours of service? Because, again, nothing has changed about the hours of service. It’s the way we’re logging.”
ELDs have helped “level the playing field,” Call said. “Not only do we compete among those motor carriers (in Washington) but we compete with motor carriers outside the state. Logging truck driver hours is a science, not an art, and our members look forward to harder enforcement. All carriers subject to the mandate are operating on the same level.”