After almost a year of a federal mandate requiring Electronic Logging Devices, truck drivers have changed some behaviors for better and some for worse.
Unlike paper logs, ELDs don’t allow drivers to fudge on how long they spend behind the wheel.
“At a previous company I drove for, as long as your receipts matched, they didn’t care what you did with your logs,” said Clark Reed, a driver for Nussbaum Transportation in Hudson, Ill. “They always pushed you.”
Some drivers admit they are speeding to beat the clock on a mandatory rest break after eight hours of driving. ELDs digitally track driving time and monitor compliance with the rest-break rule and the restriction that allows drivers behind the wheel for 11 of 14 hours before taking a 10-hour break.
“The ELD mandate is the biggest hammer ever applied against drivers,” said Todd Spencer, president of the 161,000-member Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “We don’t live in a 9-to-5 world.”
Driver productivity is affected as the on-board digital clocks count down minutes whether they are driving, sitting in traffic or waiting for cargo to be unloaded.
“We have 660 minutes a day to sell,” said Tonn Ostergard, chief executive of Crete Carriers Corp. “That’s what drivers have available to earn based off of their pay per mile.”
Drivers for Knight-Swift Transportation, which has 19,000 trucks, average just 6.5 hours of driving a day, Chief Executive Dave Jackson recently told an industry forum.
“I sleep six or six and a half hours a night. So, I am waiting on the clock (to reset) before I can go to work,” Carla Dickey, who hauls a refrigerated trailer for Bulkley Trucking in Brashear, Texas, told Trucks.com. “It puts a lot of drivers in danger because they are tired. But they don’t dare take a nap because the clock is ticking.”
Yet changes might be introduced that would bring some benefits for drivers. A review of ELD data by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration may add some flexibility to hours-of-service rules.
“If it was not for ELDs, we would not be going through this (rule-making) process,” said Jim Mullen, general counsel of the FMCSA.
Rules Can Irritate
Still, ELD tracking compliance with hours-of-service rules chafes some drivers.
“Leave us alone with the old rules and we would be miles ahead,” said Luke Foster, a 36-year long-haul veteran from the Outer Banks, N.C. He drives a car hauler throughout the U.S. for United Road Services Inc., based in Romulus, Mich.
The ELD mandate is less of an issue for drivers and motor carriers today than a year ago, according to the American Transportation Research Institute’s 2018 survey of issues critical to the trucking industry. It fell to No. 4 as a critical issue from No. 2 last year.
Some long-haul drivers said they worry ELD information could be used for purposes beyond logging hours of service.
“This ‘blame the ELD’ thing comes from people who never have liked the idea of ELDs and will blame ELDs for everything, even though they have no evidence to support their claim,” said Jeromy Hodges, who retired in 2016 after driving for 14 years. “I drove with an ELD (for Celadon Group Inc.) for over five years, and I didn’t have to drive any different than when I didn’t have an ELD.”
Having the ELD clock run while waiting for a trailer to be unloaded cut into Hodges’ income some weeks. But he made the money back at other times, such as on diesel fill-ups, he said. The ELD tracks activity by the minute, so a six-minute diesel fill-up was recorded exactly versus a 15-minute increment on a paper log.
“If you know how to work them, they make the job easier,” Hodges said. “It sure cut down on mistakes I would make on paper logs when I was tired.”
ELDs still have “work to be done,” but compliance is strong, said Ray Martinez, administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
“Of 1.4 million stops in the first nine months (of the rule), less than 1 percent did not have an ELD,” he said. “Hours-of-service violations decreased by 48 percent in the same period.”
And the ELD rule helped the FMCSA formulate ideas to update hours-of-service regulation changes.
For example, the agency is considering breaking the mandatory 10-hour rest break each day into two parts that would allow drivers to take advantage of non-rush-hour periods in traffic. The ATRI said long traffic delays drain time from ELDs and cost the trucking industry $74.5 billion a year.
Altering or dropping the 30-minute rest break accounted for a majority of the 5,200 public comments on the proposed changes, the FMCSA’s Mullen said.