The Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch bid by a major truck driver association to overturn a federal mandate on electronic logging devices that track how many hours truckers drive.
The nation's highest court said Monday it would not consider a petition by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association to hear the trucker trade group’s argument against the Department of Transportation and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requirement to install the devices, or ELDs, in heavy-duty trucks. The federal mandate is set to go into effect on Dec. 18.
“Many small business trucking companies have waited until the outcome of this case to decide what compliance pathway they would select,” said Joe Rajkovacz, governmental affairs director for the Western States Trucking Association. “My only advice at this point is don’t wait until the last minute to familiarize yourself with the available options.”
Equipping roughly 500,000 U.S. trucking firms with ELD looks to be about a $1–billion business, according to FMCSA estimates.
The issue has divided the trucking industry.
OOIDA argued that requiring ELDs on commercial vehicles would violate truck drivers’ privacy and foster carrier harassment over driving hours. The mandate will impact more than 3.5 million commercial drivers.
“The mandate has everything to do with large, economically motivated entities using the government to impose their will on small businesses which comprise the majority of the trucking industry,” said Jim Johnston, president and chief executive of OOIDA.
The trade group said it will turn its efforts to lobbying Congress to block the mandate.
“There are still many questions about the technical specifications and enforcement aspects of the mandate,” said Norita Taylor, spokeswoman for OOIDA. “Until the government is able to answer many fundamental and basic questions about the mandate, they should at least delay its implementation.”
But safety advocates, the American Trucking Associations and big motor carriers supported the rule, arguing that it would prevent truckers from driving past legal limits determined by the so-called federal hours of service rules.
“We are pleased to see that the Supreme Court will not interfere with the implementation of this important, and Congressionally mandated, safety rule,” said Chris Spear, spokesman for ATA. “We will continue to support FMCSA as they work toward the December deadline for electronic logging devices and urge them to provide certainty to the industry about when and how to comply with this rule by continuing to move toward implementing this regulation on schedule.”
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.
Lee Strebel, of Gulf Breeze, Fla., a 43-year trucking veteran, still uses paper logs. He was hopeful the high court would hear OOIDA’s ELD challenge and possibly delay implementation of the devices on trucks.
“I know how to log legal and don’t need a machine to tell me how to do my job,” Strebel told Trucks.com.
Strebel is affiliated with a small carrier, M & M American Inc. of Mason, Ohio, which has about 60 trucks. The trucking company has just begun to transition to e-logs.
However, Strebel, a few years from retirement, will “suck it up and deal with ELDs,” but said he hopes the Trump administration will weigh in on the ELD issue as it has on other regulations impacting the trucking industry.
Brian West, president of M&M, said his small fleet, which includes owner-operators and company drivers, is moving toward becoming ELD compliant and is currently testing an e-log device on 20 percent of his fleet.
“We have no problem switching over to electronic logs,” West told Trucks.com. “I think it will even the playing field in the trucking industry.”
However, he said he has faced resistance from a handful of drivers who say they will quit the trucking industry before running ELDs in their trucks.
“There’s a lot of talk right now from drivers – and they may buck it at first, but when push comes to shove, I think they will learn to accept e-logs and maybe even like using them,” West said. “There is always a groundswell of opposition when anything new is introduced in the industry.”
West predicts there will be an adjustment period for shippers and receivers, who are notorious for holding up drivers for hours at their docks without worrying if they run out of hours.
“Other forces within the industry need to be held accountable for the impact of ELDs and that drivers are on the clock and only have so much time to drive if they want their freight delivered on time,” West said.
Truck drivers only have 11 hours of driving time each day.
FMCSA Spokesman Duane DeBruyne declined to comment on the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear OOIDA’s case.
About 4 million commercial vehicle inspections are conducted every year throughout North America, according to the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.
The FMCSA estimates that ELDs will prevent 1,844 crashes, 562 injuries and save 26 lives annually by keeping exhausted drivers off the road.
Taylor said the ELD mandate “will not improve safety” as the FMCSA suggests in its data.
“It will, however, be another costly regulatory burden heaped upon an already over-regulated industry,” Taylor said.
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.