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Federal Update
Feds roll out proposed rule mandating ELDs

By David Tanner, associate editor

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has published a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking on electronic logging devices for heavy-duty trucks. The supplemental notice published to the Federal Register on March 28. A public comment period is open through the end of May unless it gets extended.

OOIDA plans to file comments.

Details of what an electronic logging device would be able to do – and not do – under a proposed mandate hit the public docket on March 13.

The FMCSA believes a mandate for electronic logs would prevent between 1,400 and 1,700 crashes and save 20 to 24 lives per year.

The proposal puts out four options for consideration on who would be subject to the mandate. All four represent a universal mandate with exceptions in two of the options for operations that do not have to maintain logbooks currently.

The language spells out technical specifications for electronic logging devices, or ELDs.

An ELD would track latitude and longitude, as well as log engine hours and odometer readings. It would record location every 60 minutes and report whether the engine is on or off. This could be accomplished through satellite or land-based tracking. GPS could be used but would not be mandated.

A device must be able to store original records in addition to any edits made to correct errors or inaccuracies. Drive time may not be changed or altered, according to the language.

A driver would not be allowed to interact with the device when the truck is in motion.

For identification and for multiple drivers that use the same vehicle, an ELD would have a log-in requirement to prevent tampering or manipulation.

Information stored in the devices could be transferred via printouts or Bluetooth for inspections and record retention.

Harassment issue
The thought on many truckers’ minds as the supplemental notice goes through the process is the issue of ELDs being used by carriers, dispatchers and others to harass drivers or coerce them into operating when fatigued or break other rules.

In response, the FMCSA says an electronic logging device would not go beyond recording for purposes of hours-of-service compliance. An ELD would not be able to do what fleet management systems and other devices do such as providing two-way communication with a carrier or dispatcher. An ELD would not be able to “ping” a driver who was resting in the sleeper, for example.

The catch – a proposed mandate for electronic logs does not go beyond ELDs to regulate or otherwise prevent carriers and dispatchers from using fleet management devices, cellphone calls or texts, or any other two-way communication to alert, rouse, manage or “ping” the drivers.

A congressional mandate and a court case that OOIDA won against the FMCSA on the issue of electronic logs and driver harassment in 2011 prompted the administration to commission a survey of drivers on the issue of harassment to accompany its ELD proposal.

The FMCSA tapped MaineWay Services to conduct the survey for a price tag of $400,000. Truckers are waiting to see how the results will be incorporated into the proposal.

FMCSA Director of Communications Marissa Padilla told Land Line that data collection was scheduled to begin in early spring.

A separate FMCSA study being conducted by Virginia Technical Transportation Institute and costing $150,000 aims to evaluate the potential safety benefits of electronic logging devices and their effects on hours-of-service compliance.

The Virginia Tech study will use carrier-collected crash data to compare ELD-equipped trucks and non-ELD-equipped trucks to “obtain a more representative picture” of real-world use. It will attempt to calculate crash exposure based on miles traveled.

“(A)lthough the sample of participating carriers in the current study will be a convenience sample, every attempt will be made to obtain a sample that is representative of the general CMV population,” FMCSA states in study materials.

Costs and comments
The FMCSA estimates that a mandate for electronic logs would cost business owners $1.6 billion.

Since the majority of trucking is small business, OOIDA is drafting comments on behalf of small-business truckers and anyone else who would be forced to operate under electronic logs if the proposal turns into a final rule.

OOIDA Director of Government Affairs Ryan Bowley says there’s a long way to go and still a lot of questions from truckers about a possible mandate.

“The agency can’t answer the simple question about whether the use of an electronic log on its own would actually make the highways safer,” Bowley said.

“Everything they are basing this proposal on is compliance. They’re saying that if compliance increases, safety will also increase.”

The fact that an ELD would log only driving time leaves a lot open for when the driver is held up at the docks or otherwise on-duty, not driving.

Bowley points out that language in the highway law known as MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century) calls for ELDs that record not only a driver’s hours of service but also record-of-duty status, known as RODS. 

“Congress did not say that an electronic logging device should record just driving time. Record-of-duty status is more than just driving time,” Bowley said.

“The area that shippers, receivers, carriers and brokers take advantage of a driver’s time is not when the driver is driving. It’s when they’re not driving.” LL

Managing Editor Jami Jones contributed to this story.