The trucking industry has a little more than a year to get ready for a massive transformation – dumping the paper logs that drivers use to document adherence to federal regulations on how many hours they are on the road in exchange for foolproof electronic logging devices.
Equipping roughly 500,000 U.S. trucking firms with these so-called electronic logging devices, or ELDs, looks to be about a $1-billion business, according to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimates. The mandate will affect more than 3 million truck drivers in the U.S., according to the American Trucking Associations.
Already, 15 companies have registered devices with the FMCSA, a mandatory requirement in advance of the regulation that goes into effect a year from Dec. 18. Device manufacturers must certify that their ELDs adhere to more than 126 pages of technical specifications. Several more companies are expected to enter the market in the next year.
The FMCSA has pushed for electronic logging to prevent driver cheating on paper logs. The devices link to a semi-truck’s engine, capturing the movement of the truck and recording how much time a trucker is at the wheel. By law, drivers are limited to 11 hours of driving daily.
The FMCSA estimates that ELDs will prevent 1,844 crashes, 562 injuries and save 26 lives annually by keeping exhausted drivers off the road. Switching to electronic logs also is expected to eliminate more than $1.6 billion in paperwork costs for motor carriers and law enforcement agencies reviewing drivers’ logs, according to the FMCSA.
Already large carriers such as UPS, FedEx and Werner Enterprises are using electronic systems to record truckers’ driving time and behavior. The American Trucking Associations, which counts many large carriers among its members, has supported the federal mandate.
“We look forward to its implementation,” the trade group told Trucks.com.
But the regulation has encountered fierce resistance from independent drivers who believe the devices will be intrusive.
“I will not be electronically monitored and tracked by my government,” veteran trucker DuWayne Marshall of Watertown, Wis., told Trucks.com.
Barring some unanticipated policy reversal, Marshall said he will retire a day before the mandate goes into effect.
But others are ready to comply with the regulation.
Ronnie Sellers of Knoxville, Tenn., who owns a three-truck operation, said he has been running e-logs since 2011.
“I would not run paper logs, and I just don’t see what the big deal is,” Sellers told Trucks.com. “Anyone who complains about e-logs is basically admitting they are going to run illegally.”
A last-ditch effort to block the ELD rule by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a trade group that represents more than 150,000 small-business truckers, failed last month when the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago rejected the owner-operator group’s arguments that ELDs would violate truck drivers’ privacy and foster carrier harassment over driving hours.
The organization is assessing whether it will appeal the decision.
“We are disappointed and strongly disagree with the court’s ruling,” said Jim Johnston, the group’s chief executive. “Because this issue is of vital importance to our members and all small-business truckers, we are reviewing our next steps to continue our challenge against this regulation.”
Still, they might get at least a temporary reprieve.
“If electronic logging device implementation gets sticky because of the FMCSA’s slowness in publishing complete technical standards, the [Trump] administration is much more likely to postpone the December 2017 deadline,” said Noël Perry, a transportation economist at FTR, an industry research firm.
In the meantime, the trucking industry will need the next year to implement the mandate.
“We are kind of in this interim where things are kind of a mess because FMCSA hasn’t produced a software program to accept the files and they haven’t found a way to test the files,” Annette Sandberg, the agency’s former deputy administrator, told Trucks.com.
Additionally, large ELD providers – including PeopleNet, Omnitracs and EROAD, which some motor carriers are already using – haven’t yet registered their products with the FMCSA.
There has been some fear among ELD providers to “rush to register their products with FMCSA too quickly,” said Gail Levario, EROADS’ vice president of strategy and market development.
Providers are still evaluating their own internal testing framework to make sure their procedures are “rock solid and meet the self-certification requirements,” Levario said.
How quickly law enforcement will be trained on how to read and transfer data using the new electronic logging devices is another concern.
Collin Mooney, executive director for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, or CVSA, said his agency is in the process of “ramping up and coordinating with ELD vendors for the training of law enforcement officials.”
About 4 million commercial vehicle inspections are conducted every year throughout North America, according to the CVSA.
“Most recently, we invited a number of ELD vendors to start educating enforcement, not only law enforcement, but other government personnel and the industry on the specific devices,” Mooney told Trucks.com. “We have started filming small demonstration snippets from each of the vendors, and we are in the process of putting together a video on how to navigate each individual device for training purposes.”
The safety alliance is working to get law enforcement up to speed before the rule kicks in next year.
Some motor carriers that haven’t switched over to e-logs are waiting to see which providers will have devices that meet FMCSA’s technical specifications in the coming months. The cost of the devices is also a concern for some who are weighing their options.
Electronic logging devices can range from $165 to $832, with one of the more popular devices priced around $495 per truck, according to Eldfacts.com.
As with any new product, Sandberg said carriers must be wary and do their due diligence in selecting an ELD provider.
“I wouldn’t encourage motor carriers to go with the cheapest one, because sometimes you get what you pay for, but maybe the most expensive one isn’t the best option either,” she said.
Longtime owner-operator Tim Philmon of Middleburg, Fla., said he is going to give electronic logs a shot and see how it fits in his trucking operation before making any rash decisions.
“I’ve always said that the only regulation that could potentially change the face of the transportation industry is when the federal government numbers the pages of our logbooks,” Philmon told Trucks.com.
The switch to e-logs didn’t fare well for one Arkansas-based motor carrier that implemented a mandatory switchover from paper logs for its owner-operators back in 2010, years ahead of the upcoming mandate.
Fikes Truck Line of Hope, Ark., which had been in the trucking business for 74 years, was dealt a fatal blow when the company lost 40 percent of its owner-operators in the “blink of an eye,” according to Gary Salisbury, Fikes’ chairman.
Other small carriers are having trouble getting ELDs into their fleet. A recent survey for Stifel Transportation & Logistics Research Group asked trucking companies if they lost drivers “who did not want to operate under ELDs” – 51.4 percent reported that they did lose drivers, 48.6 percent said none of their drivers left.
One carrier who responded to the survey said that it had a fleet of 110 trucks and “lost 29 drivers when (they) switched them over to e-logs. They either quit the day we put it in their truck or within two weeks.”