The adoption of electronic logging devices by semi-truck drivers could provide the data to make a case for easing strict driving limits, providing truckers more flexibility, said Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Administrator Ray Martinez.
“Hours of service violations are down 48 percent year over year,” Martinez said in an interview with Trucks.com. “Now let’s look at where the flexibility might lie in the hours of service that doesn’t compromise safety, is enforceable and would provide the most flexibility to this very segmented industry.”
A regulation mandating the use of the digital devices to automatically log driving time went into effect last year, and it is now being enforced. Some truckers have protested the regulation, arguing the devices are not accurate, are prone to malfunction and hinder the flexibility they need to deal with unexpected traffic or a lack of safe truck parking areas.
Martinez said the criticism of ELDs, intended to help create a safer work environment for drivers, is misguided. Industry attempts to delay implementation had more to do with the federal hours of service rule, which regulates how much time a trucker can spend behind the wheel, rather than digital data logging.
The hours of service regulation limits truckers to no more than 11 hours of driving within 14 consecutive hours. Drivers must then be off duty for 10 consecutive hours. Canada recently adopted a new rule that allows 13 hours of driving within 16 hours.
“ELDs were an easy bogeyman, but in truth they’ve been in use for many years by certain sectors of the industry to great effect, not just for the hours of service side but for management,” Martinez said.
The FMCSA has granted only one exemption to the ELD rule. That was to the motion picture industry, which Martinez said is “radically unique.” Other exemption requests have been evaluated and decisions should come soon.
Violations of the ELD mandate, which went into effect in December 2017, are running at less than 1 percent of those stopped and checked. Martinez said he believes the system is having the intended effect of putting all drivers and motor carriers on a level playing field by limiting cheating. An ELD synchronizes with a vehicle engine to automatically record driving time. It replaced a system of keeping paper logs.
Industry sharing of ELD data could help ease hours of service complaints, Martinez said.
“I don’t want to look at a flat model like Canada, Martinez said. “We have not been hearing, ‘We want to drive more hours.’ We just need flexibility.”
Martinez, sworn into his position in March after serving as Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner in New Jersey and New York, and in the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations, addressed a range of issues. Here is an edited excerpt:
What are the regulatory hurdles facing autonomous truck use?
We have to be better prepared for this technology shift. We don’t want to be the obstacle to what could be dramatic potential of improvement in safety and efficiencies in the economy. We’re investing in research to show the safety.
But what I am really excited about is that incremental improvement in technologies in trucks that are coming out today. It is improving safety and efficiency.
There were 4,000 deaths involving heavy-duty trucks last year. What can be done to address this?
We know a lot of those crashes are caused by the passenger vehicles, which is one of the reasons we have to look at this holistically with our partners at NHTSA and FHA. Where’s the low-hanging fruit here that we can pick off?
What’s your position on 18- to 20-year-old long-haul and heavy-duty truck drivers?
Some companies do this now anyway. They are going to take younger drivers and use them for certain runs and not in others. And they will graduate to other responsibilities. I’m not the final decider here. I’m the one who gets to say ‘It’s worth a look.’ Let’s see what we can do to put some meat on the bone. [We just launched a pilot program that will permit 18 to 20 year olds who possess the U.S. Military equivalent of a commercial driver’s license to operate large trucks in interstate commerce.]
Drivers say they face delays at loading docks. Are you looking at the detention time issue?
We don’t have sufficient data or the authority to see the data. The industry [does]. And they’re going to get more and more of that over the coming years. They’ll be able to say ‘This is exactly how much time I’ve wasted sitting.’ We could partner with private industry and have them inform us.
The only way I’m going to be able to do something is if either Congress has specifically ordered me to do something or I have some data that informs me I can move to create regulation. An area like detention times is not in our purview unless it is an issue of abuse or coercion.
Is there a driver shortage or shortage of companies willing to pay enough to attract drivers?
The data leads me to believe there is a [driver] shortage. Folks for better or worse will move from one company to another for whoever is offering the best bonus. And it is a good market for truckers right now.