The Real Injustice of Trucking’s ELD Mandate

Steve Viscelli,

Steve Viscelli

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.

Read Next: ELD Rule Spurs Carriers, Truckers to Drop Slowpoke Shippers

30 Responses

  1. Dennis

    The other element that would get trucking companies to change their tune about ELD’s is to do away with mileage pay. It’s immoral in this day and age to continue to pay drivers at a “piece rate,” something that is illegal in every other industry, when we now can all be paid by the hour.

      • Jeromy Hodges

        I’ve been paid by salary on jobs before and it’s not as great as you may think. A salary is basically a pay ceiling, but the amount of work you do and the hours you work may be a lot more than if you were getting paid by the hour where overtime comes into play.

    • William McCallister

      In what other industry is a piece rate illegal? I can’t think of any…

    • Chris

      Lots of companies pay by hour I make $43.00 a hour and work 91/2 a day . Try ltl

    • James Anderson

      EXACTLY! Only Truck Drivers and Waitress’s are allowed to be paid less than minimum wage in the U.S. How is this possible in 2017!

  2. Nehru

    I am a n owner operator located in brooklyn ny. I haul fresh produce. The problem with this job is you book a load of peppers say. When you get on point of pick up there are 20 trucks ahead of you. All waiting for the loads to come out of the field, then prepped, then chill then ready for loading.
    It is never just back up to the door and get loaded.
    The wait could be half of a day.
    Now imagine you have three pick ups before fully loaded.
    Thats more than fourteen hours.
    Then there is 2 days drive to hunts point ny. You would have missed your delivery window now you hold over that highly perishable product another day.
    Nobody pays all that waiting time. Am i supposed to eat that cost?
    Come December 18th I will walk away from it all.
    1 less carrier to fuck around.

  3. Tim

    Good, truthful, article. What I’m seeing, the old, “we will get you loaded when we feel like it” shippers are really picking up the pace in fear that their freight might just set on the dock, or their rates will skyrocket by billing detention on top of the rate. Let’s see how long it lasts.

    • TrueGrits

      My son in law is an owner operator. Before he heads for a shipper the cost for the load and the cost for any detention time are agreed to. Upon arrival he checks in and gets the person responsible for loading to sign off on a paper copy of the contract. Last load was difficult to get to the shipper because of traffic etc., he was tired. They signed off and paid him well for a good night’s sleep. He just shut down and told them to knock on the window when it was his turn to load. Reduced income? Yes. But not a total loss because he got some much needed sleep. Other times he uses the detention time to do some small tasks to maintain the rig. The weather will probably affect his runs to Houston this summer when he needs the A/C to sleep. But planning helps a lot. And his EDL has apps to keep a list of stuff he will want to do when he gets home etc. His works pretty much like an I-pad. Stopped by a DOT officer, the officer took one look at the EDL and said “Ok, you’re in compliance. There are so many different EDLs out there I don’t have time to learn them all.” We’ll see what happens when the “grace period” is all gone. But as an independent, that EDL is used quite differently.

      • Gary

        Sinderella story. Not for truckers You choose wrong audience Go to public theaters


    ELD’s should not be installed until they change the HOS..because that’s the real issue…not the mandate,so do not enforce this mandate until the HOS is change and thoroughly studied..

  5. Tyler Bassett

    I only work hourly as a class a driver and even this mandate will not take into account all the pre and post trip things i do. Right now I prefer class b over a because I make more drive less and get home every day.

  6. Buckskin

    FMCSA needs to read this letter ,,but seems there to hard headed and dead set on pushing the little guy out of business that it wouldn’t matter no how.

  7. Chris

    Yes we should be paid a better rate for our time. We sacrafice time away from our families and live on these dangerous roads. The pay should be much more than it currently is.

  8. Chris

    Good article but didn’t give all facts . Lots of drivers are paid by the hour not by the mile . I run 600 miles a day 5 days a week on eld . I make a six figure income and all the companies I have worked for are great with pay ( ptg out of amarillo pays its drivers salary) and where I work now it’s by the hour . Most freight companies ltl pay by hour . All of California drivers get paid by hour . Besides if you can’t make a living driving 11 hours and working 14 you should find a better company .

    • Paul

      What about the Independent who actually got into Trucking as much for the love of the job as the paycheck? Not always about money. If there is good money to be made working a couple 70+ hour weeks, why wouldn’t you want to? It is called making hay while the sun shines.

      Bust out a few good weeks when it’s paying good. Then hang the “Gone Fishin'” sign out when things are slow.

  9. Lisa

    The REAL injustice of the ELD mandate is the fact that the government is FORCING its citizens to purchase and use a product that they don’t want or need. Think Obamacare. Even if there were NO HOS, ELDs would STILL be unconstitutional. Add into that the act that they track us 24/7, even on our personal time, and you have a recipe for truckers rebelling.

  10. Benjamin Dover

    It is obvious that the author neither knows how an ELD works or knows anything about the trucking industry from a large carrier perspective. The large carriers are also gravely affected by detention, but because all the small guys have been hiding this by falsifying their logs, there is not an industry wide incentive to push for change in the industry. Once everyone is on ELD’s, it will expose the shipper/consignee detention issue and allow the industry to petition FMCSA to get relief around this issue. I wish the author would have spent at least some time interviewing people with knowledge of this topic rather than shooting off a horribly researched and written article.

    • Jimmy D

      Yea, I found it a bit cynical and it bashes “big carriers” like they’re some terrible entity. Sounds like government crying about “big corporations”. Last I checked those big companies employ a lot of people. Folks, this problem will work itself out one way or another. The move to hourly pay is coming. Either way, if you have to pick a poison, the ELDs will make the playing field level as far as REGULATION. Detention and waiting in line is a problem for EVERYONE. Just ask the dray guys at the ports. Remember that much of the safety benefits on limiting HOS were basically debunked. One thing I will agree on… The HOS rules are the problem, not ELDs.

      • Paul

        Unless you actually own the truck. Then the real problem is when the ELD malfunctions. For the single truck Independent, it is an unneeded non value adding headache. The implementation, purchasing and troubleshooting are all unnecessary and non value adding.

        I generate one piece of paper a day. I really have no need for a device championed to help streamline my HOS record keeping process.

    • Tom

      +1 !!!!!!

      Million miler here, what you write is obvious you never have driven a truck.
      Everyone who has been breaking the law, now won’t be, good riddance to them all. They are the reason freight rates dropped so far after deregulation. Willing to work 100 hrs week for squat, good riddance.

  11. Phillip

    The problem with any rule or mandate is FMCSA trys to make everything a one size fits all and that’s what they’re doing with the eld. Not everyone runs the same, not everyone pulls dry van, reefer or flatbed BUT THAT THE 3 MAIN AREAS THAT FMCSA FOCUSSES ON BECAUSE IT’S JUST EASIER TO LUMP EVERYONE INTO 3 GROUPS INSTEAD OF 100, SO TO THE GOOD OLE BOYS, F*** YOU!!!

  12. Doug Smith

    Everyone wants more flexibility in the hours of service but that is exactly why the gubment took the flexibility out. They truly want to reduce the abuse we suffer. The flexibility was all being stolen by the shippers and receivers and we were running ourselves into the grave and our logs said we’re fresh as a daisy. Bus drivers still have the same old hours so that they can make all the shopping and sightseeing stops the blue haired group wants. I like the thought of the geofence and showing on duty while you’re working on site. What about docks that let you sleep while waiting? It would make freight rates swing wildly if we charged by the hour. If you think cats are hard to herd through a train station, it’s a lot easier than trying to move truckers in the same direction.

  13. Grippe

    Just shut them down you guys shut down for two days it brings the country to its knees and everybody will wonder why and they will want answers all the way from the president right down to the consumer and at that time you demand your rate and how you want the ELDs to be set up so that It records all hours so that nobody has an advantage over the other

  14. Dave Tuhy

    The real elephant in the room is not the regulations. The real elephant in the room are the shippers/receivers who place unreasonable demands on the truckers (both large and small).

  15. Gary

    All of you talking about your small problems And nobody can’t see obvious things Main task for ELD creators is to destroy small business Dictate monopoly Convert all o/o into slaver for big companies who have drivers deficit for years All in our live is easy to understand just step out and look to who this is profitable Now what can we do to resist Answer is simple NOTHING – BE PREPARED TO BE SLAVE


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