We are now less six months from the official start of the electronic-logging era.
The rule from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has been years in the making, including a redo following a successful court challenge earlier in the decade. While that temporarily halted the rule, it did not slow innovation. After years of advancements made in fuel efficiency and communications, newer technologies like onboard diagnostics, predictive cruise control, and crash avoidance systems are slowly becoming indispensible safety options.
In my 16 years covering this industry, I’ve been fortunate to get a first-hand look at so many new vehicles. These aren’t just pieces of equipment; they are high-speed computers simultaneously sending data to drivers, dispatchers, and shippers, all while reading traffic and road terrain ahead. It is with these images in mind that I’m left wondering how anyone is thinking a pencil and paper is truly the right option for logging hours of service (HOS) heading into 2018.
During a conference call in late April, I was surprised to hear executives with Landstar System say that 24 percent, or 2,200, of the owner-operators the company uses have not yet switched over yet. They downplayed the likelihood of a significant capacity crunch, instead suggesting most are just waiting until the deadline, or hoping the Supreme Court would take up a legal challenge from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn.
After Landstar’s conference call, I spoke to Rob Moseley, an attorney in Greenville, SC. He seized first on the numbers game, even before the case itself. “Of the 7,000 or so petitions for review, [the Supreme Court] only decides 80 or so cases a year. So regardless of the merits of the case, the numbers are against them,” Moseley said.
Waiting till the last minute goes against the advice of many, who suggest training is needed. Some of the waiting game is fueled by the perception electronic logs result in lower productivity, forced upon truckers by regulators sitting behind a desk.
I sympathize with truckers who have spent decades operating safely with logbooks and do not want to add additional costs and what they consider complexities by going electronic. And there likely will be some short-term hiccups after the mandate kicks in. However, I’ve long felt this is outweighed by the public image and safety benefits that will come from taking this modern leap.
I’ve also believed many of the concerns about the technology would actually turn out to be positives. This has been a reoccurring theme during my reporting for a number of stories during my two months thus far with Fleet Owner.
For example, one consultant told me truckers will make more money with electronic logs. With paper logs built around 15-minute increments, truckers can lose an hour of driving time changing their duty status. Transitioning to 1-minute increments with electronic logs provides an opportunity to add about 50 mi. a day, or potentially $10,000 over a year.
For truckers, there remain worries of running short on hours, with no way to stretch the truth to deliver a load or make it home. And that is where the ultimate benefit could come from—using data culled from all these electronic logs to seek regulatory reforms and to push for more investment in truck parking.
That is what we just saw transpire with the restart controversy. Once research showed the safety benefits were not clear-cut, the government listened to the pleas from the industry.
With e-logs, using real safety data and science, it can be far easier to make the case that changes are needed—be it mandatory rest breaks or more flexibility built into the rule itself. That is something likely to be easier to accomplish during the Trump administration.
For years, trucking has lamented its image problem, and how the public does not appreciate the industry’s safety record. Electronic logs offer a remedy. Rather than whispering about how much HOS cheating may be going on, the computer will tell the tale.