ELDs: Menace or miracle?

Sept. 27, 2017
No one knows what the final outcome will be after implementation

Menace or miracle: Two very strong descriptive words for the already highly charged debate surrounding the imposition of the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate this December.

But I don’t use them lightly because, in more than a few ways, this is exactly how ELDs are perceived in the trucking industry today.

Let’s start with the word “menace” —and let there be no doubt, many truck drivers and small fleets regard the ELD as a menace of the first order.

Search out postings regarding ELDs on Facebook or Twitter and you can almost see the vitriol dripping from their comments.

“Personally, I hope it all falls by the wayside and every ELD manufacturer goes bankrupt,” noted one driver on our Facebook page. And that’s one of the milder comments.

I talked about this issue with David Wangler, president of TMW Systems and now also president of the newly formed Trimble Transportation Enterprise division, which comprises TMW Systems and ALK Technologies. He said he more than understands why there is sizable resistance on the part of many truckers to the idea of being forced to use ELDs instead of paper logbooks.

“This is really not a technology issue at all; it’s about removing the flexibility and freedom of the job,” he explained.

“There are a lot of jobs you can do for more money than driving a truck, but the freedom is why people do it,” said Wangler. “Now they feel more freedom is being taken away.”

But then why, with such deep personal feelings of animosity toward this technology so prevalent, would I even consider putting the word “miracle” anywhere near ELDs?

It’s pretty straightforward, actually. ELDs might finally offer a way to attack a major problem truck drivers continually face in the business of hauling freight: detention time.

David Heller, vice president of government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), told me so during a recent webinar on the subject of (you guessed it!) ELD compliance.

“In a 2011 report, the GAO (U.S. Government Accounting Office) found that 80% of drivers said that detention time impacts their compliance with hours of service [rules] and that 65% of lost revenue is due to detention time,” he explained. “Those are things ELDs can help with.”

Furthermore, he noted that the “accepted” amount of detention time in trucking is two hours, yet a study by Virginia Tech found that, on average, drivers are delayed 3.4 hours—some 1.4 hours more than the acceptable standard. “With ELDs, we will now have data to support this very argument about the negative impact of detention time,” Heller stressed.

One negative is cost. A survey conducted by DAT Solutions last year among 247 motor carriers found only 3% of carriers were paid on 90% or more of their detention claims at a rate of between $30 and $50 per hour. Even when the claims were paid, however, that level of compensation did not cover the opportunity costs to their business, those fleets said.

Heller added that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration gained a degree of regulatory oversight of shippers through the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21, transportation spending act passed five years ago, which required the agency to promulgate a rule to prevent the coercion of truck drivers by carriers, brokers, and shippers.

The Coercion Rule, which went into effect in 2016, provides for stiff fines for violators, and Heller believes excessive detention time could definitely fall under the term “coercion.”

“You will have law enforcement personnel looking at electronic logs and seeing the same location for delays over and over mapped out by latitude and longitude,” he said, which could create a tipping point in terms of finally getting shippers and receivers to address the impact of detention time on truck driver work hours and pay.

And if that happens, who knows? ELDs might end up qualifying as “miraculous” indeed.

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr | Editor in Chief

Sean previously reported and commented on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry. Also be sure to visit Sean's blog Trucks at Work where he offers analysis on a variety of different topics inside the trucking industry.

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