SPECIAL REPORT: Details released for proposed mandate for electronic logs

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 3/13/2014

Thursday, March 13, 2014 – The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has released details of what an electronic logging device would be able to do – and not do – under a proposed mandate for all trucks. The FMCSA will begin accepting public comments once the language officially hits the Federal Register.

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 according to details released Thursday, March 13. The release comes just one day after the document cleared the Office of Management and Budget.

Once published in the Federal Register, the FMCSA will open a 60-day comment period.

The proposal puts out four options for considerations 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, 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 supplementary 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 breaking 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 is, 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 study on harassment to accompany its ELD proposal.

The FMCSA tapped Virginia Tech to conduct the study. Truckers are waiting to see what that study says and how it relates to the supplementary notice about to be published.

“The study is underway with data collection scheduled to begin later this month,” FMCSA Director of Communications Marissa Padilla told Land Line by email.

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 that 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 only log 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.”

Managing Editor Jami Jones contributed to this story.

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