FMCSA uses fuzzy math and shaky statistics to force ahead with electronic logging mandate

By Mark Reddig, Land Line Now host

Whenever a new regulation is proposed or put in place, the federal government has an obligation to show the benefits outweigh the cost.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration unveiled a final rule on Dec. 16, 2015, mandating electronic logs in all trucks model year 2000 and newer starting in December 2017. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed suit seeking to block the rule the next day.

The arguments against an across-the-board electronic log mandate are plentiful. In fact, OOIDA successfully challenged a previous limited mandate.

While the Association had three arguments prepared for that court case, The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in the Judge Diane Woods' own words, needed to consider only the first argument, harassment. Consider they did, and the rule was tossed.

Nonetheless, FMCSA forged ahead, going full speed ahead with a mandate for all trucks.

One argument against the mandated use of such devices that hasn't gotten a lot of attention is FMCSA's claim that the benefits of the rule outweigh the costs.

Never has fuzzy math been more expertly used as it has been in attempting to justify this rule to require electronic logging devices.

First, let's talk about the cost. I think we can all agree that truckers will face a cost.

The cost of the actual devices is nothing to be sneezed at. Then you have an ongoing monthly cost - after all, the companies who provide this kind of device and service aren't in this for charity. The cost of an ELD or the monthly service varies from provider to provider.

The people who make those devices pushed hard for this, for a federal requirement to force people to buy what they produce. One trucker even made the case that with all truckers forced to purchase and pay for ELDs, the price for the device or monthly service could go up.

Nothing skews economics quite like a captive audience.

Now let's turn to what this will cost the industry. FMCSA's own figures predict the ELD rule will cost the industry more than $1 billion a year for equipment alone.

Crazy? Yes. But not the craziest part.

Now remember, to justify this FMCSA has to show benefits outweighing the cost. So let's walk through their case for that.

They say that the savings from the reduction in crashes will be about $572 million a year.

FMCSA claims this rule will save the industry nearly $2.5 billion in paperwork costs.

Bull. Plain, straight-up bull.

The FMCSA says that the savings per driver for not completing written records-of-duty status and forwarding that paperwork to the carrier would save more than $600 per trucker. However, truckers are not paid for that time. That time does not cost the carrier anything. So the actual cost savings is zero.

That math is pretty easy to punch holes in for anyone who knows simple addition and subtraction. Maybe knowing that they are on shaky math ground, the FMCSA has also employed some really shady scientific "justifications," using the word very loosely, to try to defend the logging mandate.

Let's go back to crashes prevented.

Back in my college days, a professor in one of my classes was decrying the state of science and research. He had been reading one story after another in the mainstream media that "such-and-such causes cancer," or "Whatchamacallit cuts years off your life."

In many of those stories, the authors of the "study," if it could be called that, had no evidence that one thing caused another. They simply found an association based on numbers.

That professor called these "ice cream murder studies."

Here's how it works: In the summer, as the weather heats up, ice cream sales go up. As the weather warms, murder rates go up. Those relying strictly on this kind of comparison - called a "statistical correlation" - would conclude that ice cream causes murder.

By the same token, you might say hot chocolate prevents it.

Yet you wouldn't believe how many times you read in the media that one thing causes another, and all they have is a statistical correlation.

That's completely different from the term "causation," where science is able to show that one thing truly does cause another, and how it causes it.

That hasn't stopped FMCSA mandating electronic logs. Agency officials proclaim that the new rule is "data driven" or that the agency itself is "data driven."

However, does that data show causation, or simply correlation? You be the judge. Here's what Andrew King of the OOIDA Foundation told me during a recent conversation:

"According to the FMCSA, for every 191 violations of form and manner, there would be a crash," he said.

After "doing some funny math," Andrew continued, "They say, 'well, if you eliminate 191 violations because of ELDs with form and manner, then you're saving a crash.'"

Does anyone honestly believe that using the wrong ZIP code on a log has anything to do with whether you crash? Of course not.

"This is how they arrived at their estimates for how many crashes and things would be reduced, or how much safety would be 'improved' because of ELDs," Andrew said.

Ice cream causes murder. Hot chocolate prevents it.

What's more, as Andrew points out, in other parts of the rule, the agency comes right out and admits it doesn't even have a complete statistical correlation, much less causation.

And in studies done by Cambridge Systematics at the request of FMCSA, that group wrote, "There have been no documented improvements in compliance or safety in carriers that use EOBRs."

Sounds ridiculous, right?

Frankly, it's hard to believe it will lead to a single crash being avoided. Not one. That's because ELDs are no more effective at measuring compliance than a paper log. After all, under this rule, ELDs require truckers to manually input their duty status - you know, like they manually write it on a log. LL

Land Line Magazine Managing Editor Jami Jones contributed to this report.