The comment period is now closed regarding the request by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for a five-year exemption from the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate for “small trucking businesses” that can document a “proven history of safety performance” with no at-fault crashes.
Yet in many ways the argument over such exemptions is only just beginning.
On the one hand are owner-operators such as Craig DeWolf of Stillwater, MN; a farmer and part-time/seasonal truck driver who explained in his written comments that being forced to buy an ELD is “an affront to my pocketbook and also to my integrity.”
In DeWolf’s view, “I feel you are assuming by this mandate that all truckers are being dishonest with their [paper] logbooks. This is not the case with me, yet I am guilty before any evidence has been brought against me.”
He added that being mandated to buy and ELD “is also putting an unfair pressure on a guy like me, who is a small trucking business trying to make some money on the side to supplement his farming business,” he said. “There are many documented problems with these ELDs and my not having a company over me with people who can make the necessary contacts regarding on-the-road problems puts me at a huge disadvantage.”
While DeWolf said that while he understood the “whys” of the ELD rule, which aims to ensure compliance with hours of service (HOS) regulations, he himself has an exemplary safety record with no at-fault crashes.
“I understand fully that I am required to abide by HOS regulations and proper paper records. I do this and will continue to do this,” he said. “Should I not abide by these regulations and authorities can prove this, THEN I should be mandated to purchase and use an ELD.”
Advocates in favor of OOIDA's exemption also noted that FMCSA is already granting select trucking operations with a five-year exemption from the ELD mandate.
Back on January 12, the agency granted the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) a five-year exemption for drivers providing transportation to and/or from a theatrical or television motion picture production site, allowing them to use paper logbooks because “the unique aspects of these drivers' operations, combined with additional oversight of their paper RODS [record of duty status] is equivalent to that which would result from the use of ELDs for their particular operations, and therefore provides an equivalent level of safety.”
Other industry groups, however, do not believe the broader five-year exemption OOIDA is seeking for small trucking operators is fair and could stunt efforts to improve roadway safety.
Cathy Chase, president of the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, noted in her written comments that FMCSA has estimated that each mandating the use of ELDs will prevent over 1,800 truck crashes per year
“More than 4,300 people were killed in large truck crashes in 2016, representing a 5% increase from the previous year and the highest fatality number since 2007,” she said. “Especially with truck crash deaths rising, this minimal, proven, effective technology should be in use in every truck immediately. OOIDA’s exemption request is just a smokescreen that attempts to re-litigate a closed case and undermine the effectiveness of the ELD rule.”
“When it comes down to whether this or that segment of the trucking industry should abide by rules that can reduce large truck crashes, the government should have one standard and that is ‘a truck is a truck is a truck,’” noted Lane Kidd, managing director of the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security.
“We shouldn’t allow outliers to skirt public safety regulations,” he added. “Trucking companies have a moral and ethical responsibility to keep the public’s trust, that they are operating as safely as possible, and ELDs are a huge step in achieving that objective.”
The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) also strongly opposes OOIDA’s exemption request, calling it “unjustified and impractical.”
According to written comments by Collin Mooney, CVSA’s executive director, the final rule regarding the ELD mandate was published two years ago, in December of 2015. Thus the requirement to install and use ELDs “is not a new development and industry has had more than enough time to prepare for implementation.”
He also argued that “the cost of an ELD is simply part of the cost of doing business and compliance for those in the trucking and bus industries: Vehicles have to be maintained, drivers have to be trained, and ELDs have to be installed.”
Mooney also pointed out that HOS rules exist to help prevent and manage driver fatigue, and “while it’s true that we cannot regulate sleep,” the HOS rules “set forth a framework that, if followed,” allows for drivers to achieve restorative sleep and rest.
“Unfortunately, HOS violations continue to be some of the most frequently found violations by enforcement officials [during] roadside safety inspections,” he noted.
Indeed, during the group’s annual 72-hour Roadcheck International safety inspection blitz conducted across North American in June last year, the top three driver-related violations were for hours of service (32.3% of driver out-of-service violations), wrong class license (14.9%) and false log book (11.3%).
“What this tells us is that too many drivers and motor carriers either don’t understand the hours-of-service rules or are intentionally violating them – and, as a result, undermining safety,” Mooney said. “Deployment of ELDs will help address both of these issues. For those drivers and motor carriers who don’t understand the intricacies of HOS requirements and for those who make the occasional mistake when using their paper log, ELDs will remove the guess work and the risk of human error. This will result in better compliance and fewer violations.”
He added that for those who are using paper logbooks to find “wiggle room” in the current HOS rules, ELDs will “make it easier for inspectors to identify violations and take unsafe, non-compliant carriers and drivers off the roadways. The devices will also save time for both inspectors and drivers, leading to more efficiency.”