In a last-ditch effort to overturn a federal mandate on electronic logging devices that track how many hours truckers drive, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has taken its fight to the highest court in the land.
Supreme Court justices are scheduled to debate Thursday whether to hear the trucker trade group’s argument against the Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. The case challenges the requirement to install the devices, or ELDs, in heavy-duty trucks. The federal mandate is set to go into effect on Dec. 16.
The issue has divided the trucking industry.
OOIDA argues that requiring ELDs on commercial vehicles would violate truck drivers’ privacy and foster carrier harassment over driving hours. The mandate would impact more than 3.5 million commercial drivers.
“This is government overreach at historic proportions, specifically targeting small business truckers,” Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA, told Trucks.com. “Not only will the mandated technology not improve safety, the required tracking in the measure goes to the very foundation of our nation and its constitution.”
But safety advocates, the American Trucking Associations and big motor carriers support the rule, arguing that it will prevent truckers from driving past legal limits determined by the so-called federal hours of service rules.
The FMCSA estimates that ELDs will prevent 1,844 crashes, 562 injuries and save 26 lives annually by keeping exhausted drivers off the road.
“ATA supports this important, and Congressionally-mandated, safety rule and we will continue to support FMCSA as they work toward the December implementation date,” said Sean McNally, spokesman for the ATA.
The industry expects to see the ranks of independent truckers shrink if the mandate survives. Many drivers aren’t willing to submit to the electronic tracking.
And while many large carriers have already made the switch over to electronic logs, many small-business truckers are still using paper logs.
“I do think there are a bunch of small carriers that they don’t have the intention of spending the capital to become ELD compliant,” said Adam Satterfield, senior vice president of finance and chief financial officer of Old Dominion Freight Lines. “It’s just different from the way they have been operating in the past and so I think you will see a bunch of these small carriers probably exit the market.”
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.
While the justices might decide this week whether they will hear the case, the decision could drag out, said Paul Cullen Sr., attorney for OOIDA.
The justices may “defer a decision in the hearing” to request additional information from the Transportation Department, he said. The agency did not file a brief opposing the independent trucking organization’s petition by the May 15 deadline.
“We have put forth a strong petition on Fourth Amendment grounds and now we have to leave it up to the court, granting or denying the petition,” Cullen told Trucks.com.
The ELD rule will expose commercial drivers to “warrantless inspections” intended to enforce driver compliance with the hours of service regulations, he said.
About 4 million commercial vehicle inspections are conducted every year throughout North America, according to the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.
If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case and defers the mandate deadline, trucking veteran DuWayne Marshall of Watertown, Wis., said he would reconsider his planned exit from the trucking industry in December after 35 years.
“I would delay retirement for another year or so if the Supreme Court overturns the mandate or delays the implementation date for ELDs,” Marshall said. “Truckers are tired of having the screws tightened on them. Most guys didn’t get into trucking to have their every movement monitored – the freedom of the open road was the allure.”
OOIDA’s previous attempt to block the ELD rule was foiled in October 2016 when the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago rejected the owner-operator group’s arguments.