Written by Steve Viscelli, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania and author of The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream. This is one in a series of periodic guest columns by industry thought leaders.
As the Dec. 18 deadline to install electronic logging devices rapidly approaches, the cry from small businesses and owner-operators is growing louder.
Truckers have raised a number of reasons why the rule is unfair.
In my view, the strongest argument is that big trucking firms aren’t going to experience nearly the same economic burden as small motor carriers to comply. As everyone knows, nearly all large companies already have on-board equipment that records hours. That equipment pays for itself by making it easier to keep track of drivers’ movements for load planning, dispatching and accounting purposes.
Aside from the equipment costs, however, the arguments the little guys are making against the ELD mandate, like privacy, are falling flat. Why? Because nobody wants to admit the elephant in the room — it’s not electronic monitoring of hours of service that is the problem, it’s the HOS rules themselves.
Truckers must comply with the federal rule limiting driving to no more than 11 hours a day within a 14-hour workday. Drivers must then be off duty for 10 consecutive hours. But anyone who has driven a truck knows that HOS are violated on a daily basis by nearly all drivers in many segments of the industry.
ELDs aren’t the fail-safe recording devices that regulators and the big trucking companies claim. The systems currently used by most big companies don’t even pick up all driving time because they don’t log a driver as driving until they reach a certain speed, so yard moves may not be picked up. ELDs won’t pick up all driving time either because they won’t log the time drivers are behind the wheel with the engine running but not moving — say waiting in line or waiting to back into a dock — as driving time (as HOS require). Even the most easily monitored activity won’t be accurately recorded by ELDs.
Some of the drivers who don’t want ELDs are the lucky few who run over hours because they have really good, long loads — loads that give them one or two long days of driving. The big companies can’t run these loads in just one or two days because their automatic logging systems pick up the vast majority of their drivers’ driving time and automatically record the start of their 14-hour window.
Let’s be honest, truckers who are running paper logs and “divide by 60” to calculate their driving time and start their 14-hour clock after the fact have an advantage over big companies that ELDs will eliminate. Subjecting these drivers to the same monitoring as the big guys will eliminate perhaps the one and only — admittedly illegal — advantage they possess.
The American Trucking Associations and big carriers are happy to point the finger at these drivers and say they only oppose the ELD mandate because they’re violating HOS rules and subsequently give the industry a bad name. To call this hypocrisy is an understatement. Most of the big guys are thrilled to have the spotlight focused on logging inaccuracy around driving time and the start of a driver’s 14-hour work window. It prevents anyone from focusing on the much bigger problem of log falsification: logging waiting and non-driving work time as sleeper berth or off-duty time.
With their short average length of hauls and lots of waiting and non-driving work time relative to driving time, the big carriers must be quite happy with the ELD mandate. Their drivers wish they could run into a problem of running over 60 hours of driving in a week. But they don’t even come close. As recent analysis by the large motor carrier J.B. Hunt shows, they only spend about half of their time driving paid miles. That makes the current ELD “solution” to overworking drivers that suits the big carriers quite handy. Big carriers don’t pay their drivers for the 30 or 40 hours a week they spend waiting and doing non-driving tasks. ELDs won’t record those hours automatically. And drivers won’t manually record those hours because they will take away from the time they can drive and actually get paid.
ELDs won’t stop companies from overworking drivers. They won’t stop shippers from keeping them unpaid at docks for hours. They won’t stop drivers from working 80 hours a week or more. ELDs will, however, end the HOS debate for the foreseeable future. Will they save lives? I sure hope so. But they won’t save nearly as many as paying drivers for all the work they do would.
In fact, there is an obvious solution that the big carriers have managed to keep off the table.
The systems they use are linked to GPS and many already “geo-fence” customer locations to know when a truck arrives and departs. It would be easy to automatically log drivers as on-duty when they are on a customer location (as HOS require). That would clear up the biggest area of log falsification, the dozens of hours that drivers sit unpaid at customer locations. That would hit the big carriers hard. Propose that and the ATA will start singing a whole new tune about ELDs.