The trucking industry this year could face a repeat of the turmoil prompted by the federal mandate for electronic logging devices.
Up to half of the 3.5 million heavy-duty trucks on the road lack the required equipment, industry experts said. Most, they said, are waiting until the last minute to switch.
“We estimate that more than 50 percent of the 3.5 million Class 8 trucks will be required to replace or upgrade the ELD system they are using,” said Donald Broughton, principal and managing partner of Broughton Capital in Clayton, Mo.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in December 2017 required digital monitoring to track how long a driver was behind the wheel during a day. The goal was to reduce drowsy driving and make roads safer. The mandate replaced paper logs, which drivers often fudged to skirt the rules.
Some carriers concerned about rising insurance premiums had added Automatic On-Board Recording Devices to their trucks earlier in the decade. These tools can be as simple as a cellphone app but perform enough ELD functions that the FMCSA is allowing their use until Dec. 16.
Safety inspectors can order a non ELD-compliant truck out of service after that date. Even a temporary shortage of trucks could make shipping more expensive.
A simple software upgrade is all some of the pre-ELD devices need for full ELD functionality. But many trucks need new ELDs systems that integrate into engine controls.
Medium-duty trucks also face challenges.
More than 60 percent of pickup and delivery trucks that travel more than 100 miles a day from their home terminal need an integrated ELD, Broughton said. FedEx, United Parcel Service and Amazon and local utility and service businesses use more than 3.7 million of these trucks.
“It could be a bigger disruption than December 2017 because people are not planning at this point,” Broughton told Trucks.com. Over time, better technology will improve the industry’s efficiency, he said.
This switch to ELDs is an upgrade rather than new technology like two years ago. Productivity could dip, as it did for several months after the original ELD mandate, depending on how many companies try to upgrade at once.
Some think the trucking industry will adjust quickly.
“I don’t think there’s going to be much drama,” said Kevin Hill, president of CarrierLists, which polled the 259 carriers in its database on migrating to ELDs. Many carriers indicate they will use the same vendor, he said.
The CarrierLists survey found that 80 percent of trucking firms using AOBRDs said they were waiting as long as possible to change. Most of the respondents had fleets of one to 19 trucks.
HOPE FOR RELIEF
Some could be hoping for help from Congress. Legislation introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in March would exempt owners of 10 or fewer trucks from the ELD requirement. The same bill introduced a year ago never made it out of committee.
“My prediction is that it will not go anywhere,” said David Blackwell, a product manager for Coretex Inc., a fleet management company that sells and services ELDs. Trucking companies already using ELDs want a level playing field, he said.
The FMCSA routinely rejects ELD-exemption requests. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which fought the mandate for several years, failed to get a pass for small trucking businesses with good safety records.
The productivity hit from ELDs played out during one of the strongest freight markets in history. Some routes that fit within a day of driving before ELDs stretched into a second day following the mandate. Loading and unloading delays that could be erased from paper logs became unforgiving ticks off a digital clock.
ELDs worsened an existing shortage of drivers and trucks. Some shippers stopped accepting loads for several months last year, pushing spot shipping rates up by as much as 30 percent.
Some hours-of-service relief could be coming. The FMCSA expects to publish rule changes this June, followed by a period for public comment.
The supply of ELD equipment already is short, Blackwell said.
“There is misinformation out there among the carriers thinking they either have an ELD, or it’s going to be easy to switch; it’s just not,” he said.
The FMCSA and suppliers like Coretex and Omnitracs urge trucking companies to beat the Dec. 16 deadline.
“This date is not going to move,” said Tom Cuthbertson, Omnitracs’ vice president of regulatory affairs.