ELDs: Privacy, competition, adoption

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Updated May 13, 2014
ELD use poll 2014

In our ELD survey, some results from which I reported on here and here, of the 12 percent of Overdrive readers who indicated they were already using electronic logs, 6 in 10 had made the transition within just the last two years. More than 8 in 10 had transitioned to e-logs in the last four years. While the vast majority of those making the recent transition were company drivers and leased owner-operators, those least likely to be required to outlay hard cash for purchase/use of the devices, for independents who’d made the switch numbers were even more heavily tilted toward recent adoption. Close to 8 in 10 of that group indicated a switch to e-logs within the last two years, 45 percent within the last year. 

The recency of adoption among this group gives some credence in my view to the bit of devil’s advocacy Equipment Editor Jack Roberts played a couple weeks back to results from Overdrive’s survey question on drivers and owner-operators’ plans relative to the FMCSA’s proposed electronic logging device mandate. A big majority said they’d close up shop before running under e-logs.

But Roberts also made note of the privacy issue, which “cuts to the core of the opposition to ELDs,” he wrote, continuing:

Americans are a free people increasingly surrounded by a growing surveillance state. Technology has made it easier than ever before to track the movements and activities of people as they go through all aspects of their lives. Sometimes this is a good thing: The identification and capture of the Boston Marathon bombers last year springs to mind. 

In the scrum of commenters that followed, among them was Cary Davis, safety director for Texas-based Albert Companies with a 27-year driving career now behind him. He took on the privacy argument against ELDs this way: “This has nothing to do with privacy issues. You are conducting commerce in a federally regulated vehicle. … You are confusing personal freedoms as a private citizen with your job as a regulated employee in a regulated job. Those two items can’t possibly be farther apart on the privacy spectrum! If we were to use your train of thought, then we should remove the black boxes from aircraft, ocean-going vessels should not show up on radar, trains should not be monitored to avoid collisions with another train, etc. etc. etc. That doesn’t sound very responsible, does it?”

Owner-operator Joe BieluckiOwner-operator Joe Bielucki

The expectation of privacy and freedom of business choice are two different things, though both tend to dominate ELD concerns and get confused on occasion. Owner-operator Joe Bielucki, based in Connecticut, makes a good argument for the latter. Representatives of larger carriers — the voices that tend to dominate the pro-ELD side of things — view ELDS “as a leverage tool only,” he wrote in recently. “Back when the CDL was coming down the pike all these same folks were saying how rates will improve and bad apples will fall by the wayside. This did not come to fruition! CDL programs have been plagued by corruption in many states. As a ‘micro-carrier’ I have an advantage over large carriers…. I am hands-on, talking to my customers face to face, and working with the hands-on folks of my shippers.”

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Finally, he notes, implications by some in and out of the industry that the 70 percent of independents who intimated in Overdrive‘s ELD survey that they’d hang up their gear-shifters before running with e-logs are chronic hours violators are missing the point: “Most of us who actually read Overdrive are law-abiding folks who like to be left alone to do the right thing. Ethics I believe the word is I’m looking for.”

As Max Heine quoted Bielucki in this piece, “If you’re a chronic violator, then fine. But I should not have to pay for someone else’s misjudgments.”

Comments on the proposed ELD mandate can be made online through May 27 at regulations.gov using the Docket Number FMCSA-2010-0167 or by email at [email protected], using the subject line Attention: Desk Officer for FMCSA, DOT. They can also be faxed to 202-395-6566.