With the start of a new federal rule requiring digital tracking of the number of driving hours truckers log only weeks away, drivers critical of the regulation are launching sporadic protests and hoping for a last-minute congressional reprieve.
But most in the industry believe the mandate — which will force truckers to comply with a federal hours-of-service rule limiting driving to no more than 11 hours a day — will go into effect as planned Dec. 18.
HR 3282, a House bill to delay the deadline for two years by Republican Rep. Brian Babin of Texas, has been parked in the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure since the day it was introduced in July.
Truckers support the bill, but they know its passage is unlikely before the December deadline. That’s left truckers suggesting that their only hope of halting the regulation is a nationwide strike.
“I drove a truck in the 1970s and remember some of the strikes back then,” Gary Graham, a 45-year trucking veteran from Lamar, Mo., told Trucks.com. “I feel like there is going to be another shutdown [prior to the December deadline] and it may not be so peaceful.”
In early October, Graham shut down his trucking operation for a week, painting signs opposing the ELD mandate on the side of his trailer. Graham, a flatbed trucker, said that cost him about $2,000 in earnings.
However, the history of trucker protests and the very nature of getting independent drivers to agree on a plan of action makes that a longshot.
Work stoppages aren’t an effective means to protest the impending ELD mandate because independent truckers lack the economic resources to shut down for long periods of time, said Steve Viscelli, a University of Pennsylvania sociologist and author of the book “The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream.”
Drivers also are unlikely to work together to create a massive labor action.
“They don’t have the ability to stick together — and really change the capacity of the industry by voluntarily withholding their services,” he told Trucks.com. “They also don’t have an effective means to coordinate it.”
Their self-reliant nature works against presenting a unified front.
“Independent truckers who can’t get out of their own mindset and work together are their worst enemies,” Scott Jordan, the owner of a small trucking company in Peculiar, Mo., told Trucks.com.
Independent truckers also lack any meaningful market power, Viscelli said.
But while protests won’t likely have an economic impact on the trucking industry, they could have a symbolic impact, he said. “That’s the only way it could go down well for them.”
Previous nationwide strike attempts, including one in February 1983, resulted in violence as truckers protested legislation to increase federal fuel taxes and user fees. Independent truckers argued that they would not be able to pass on resulting higher fuel costs to their customers.
Independent truckers waged an 11-day strike in February 1974 over higher fuel prices, resulting in violence that left two truckers dead. A settlement reached with the federal government included a 6 percent freight rate surcharge to allow truckers to recoup increased fuel expenses.
“We always support lawful protests, especially those that facilitate further discussions with lawmakers,” said Norita Taylor, spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a trade group with more than 150,000 members.
But others in the trucking industry, including the American Trucking Associations, support the regulation.
“ATA is firm in its belief that there will be no delay in the Dec. 18 deadline to implement electronic logging devices,” Sean McNally, spokesman for the trade group, told Trucks.com. “This rule has been upheld by FMCSA, by Congress and by the courts, and we see no reason for it to be delayed.”
Stephen Burks, professor of economics and management at the University of Minnesota, questioned the efficacy a national shutdown would have and whether there are enough drivers “willing to stop work to make a significant difference over a long enough period to have a large impact.”
“I suspect [it’s] not enough to have the kind of impact the truckers, who are upset, would like,” Burks, who supports the ELD mandate, told Trucks.com.
Drivers in interviews with Trucks.com said they don’t want to be digitally tracked.
“I don’t want a computer telling me when to drive and when to sleep,” Bahtiyor Sultan, an owner-operator from Plainfield, Ill., told Trucks.com.
Drivers believe the devices will limit driving time and cut their earnings. They say battling the 14-hour clock every day will force them to drive when tired. They are concerned about overcrowding at rest areas and truck stops and the difficulty of finding safe truck parking as they shut down each day.
“I may see how it goes,” Sultan said. “If I am forced to stop because the 14-hour clock tells me to when I am miles from home, I will stop trucking.” Sultan said such a scenario will cut into the time he has to spend at home.
After shutting down his one-truck operation for a week in early October to protest the mandate, Robert Rueden of Abbotsford, Wis., said he is “holding out hope” that it will be delayed.
“I don’t believe in the government tracking my every move,” Rueden told Trucks.com.
He’s also considering a workaround. Trucks with engines built before 2000 are exempt from the regulation, so he might buy an older engine for his rig.
For frustrated truckers, their only hope looks to be a last-minute appeal to the White House.
“I am hoping President Trump steps in and does something to stop it,” Graham said.
But he may be disappointed.
Raymond Martinez, Trump’s nominee for administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said in recent Senate testimony that he would not delay implementation of the ELD regulation.