More ELD questions answered by Wes Memphis

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Updated Apr 9, 2017

Owner-operator Scott Reed, whom regular readers will recall I wrote about on the occasion of Reed and others’ meeting with Ohio rep Jim Jordan last month, had a few questions that went unanswered by company driver and sometime pseudonymous Channel 19 contributor Wes Memphis‘ post from Friday last week about ELDs/income. Memphis offered the following further answers, the questions (in bold) from Reed:

So how was your overall feeling of fatigue [since the e-log transition]?
Overall, my level of fatigue has improved, at least on most days. There’s a dream I used to have  when I’d been pushing too hard. It would always come just as I was finally getting to sleep. I’d dream that I’d fallen asleep behind the wheel, and had to get control of the truck before I crashed, so I’d go ripping through the berth trying to get to the steering wheel. Banged myself up pretty good more than once doing that. Once in the 80s I tore the upholstery down to the metal of the back side of a Builder’s Tranport cabover while going the wrong way in the middle of my somnambulant dash to the wheel. I think I’ve had that dream maybe twice since going to ELDs. I’m sitting here with my wife as I write this, and she says I haven’t had that dream at the house for a long time. She says I was waking up screaming all the time before e-logs. Funny thing, the next morning [after such a dream] I would wake up completely refreshed, and she would be exhausted.

What percentage of drop and hook were you?
About two-thirds of what I haul is drop and hook.

How is your customer base vs. broker freight?
About 90 percent of our freight is direct.

Was losing 2 days a month [in home time] worth $50 [Memphis reported his income was $50 better his first year with e-logs versus last one with paper, but he lost some considerable home time over the course of the year]?
The two days a month really added up to leaving a half day earlier each week than I had normally been leaving. Before e-logs, I was sometimes guilty of not getting myself out the door and on the road early enough. I did that just once on ELDs, and it made for a tough night. You of course develop a sense of where you need to be before you lay down. I think that was one of the times I had the truck-wreck dream.

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As to whether it was worth it or not, that is a tough question to answer. A friend once told me, “Wes, you just plow through life.” His concern was that I didn’t give a lot of critical thought to my decisions, I just kept hammering down until I crashed. This may be one of those scenarios. It could be, if you took $50 and divided it by my extra days out, you could say, “Wow dude, you just got screwed.” Yet how many days was I going home and doing nothing for two days because I was completely drained from simply doing what I was told pulling a reefer? So the best answer I can give you is no, and yes.

How much did it stress did it add to you and your family?
At first there was a great deal more stress. The transition to e-logs within our small- to mid-size company meant the changing of the guard to the new generation within the ranks of dispatch. A profile of my favorite dispatchers throughout the years would go something like this: the dude who got the DUI. Now that guy was passing the baton to someone half his age who may have supported Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. You should allow yourself three meltdowns before you finally take to the bit and bridle of this. The old man had to literally talk me out of leaving the company during my third and final meltdown while I was giving him my two-week notice. I was just about to go work for the landfill. No kidding, though you should really ask your employer for the best seat they will provide you, and for three meltdowns.

Then, after about six months, things sort of smoothed out. A lot of that was attributable to getting rid of the crappy app program they had, and putting us on a better e-log device. If you want to know what demons you may have, start a rock band with some of your trucker friends, and record an album. If you’re not musically inclined, then just invest in a crappy e-log system for your employees to use.

Do you have children? If so are they involved in anything that you may have missed out on where as before you could have made it to by being in control of yourself?
My children are all grown and gone. If we want to make something with the grandchildren, we just plan it and make it happen.

How often if ever did the company have to work your log? Having run on e-logs can you see why e-log truck accidents may be on the increase?
With the new program, there hasn’t been a maintenance issue yet. With the old one, yes, there were constant issues.

With regard to an increase in accidents due to e-logs, I can’t speak to this, because I haven’t seen anything written about that. I’m not saying it’s false. One only has to see the parcel carriers with ELDs speeding through construction zones to surmise a causative relationship between e-logs and unsafe driving. Still, I have no common point of reference — a study, an article — to address. [OOIDA’s legal brief in section III outlined a variety of issues the association took with FMCSA’s justification for the ELD mandate rule as a safety-positive. Anyone interested can re-visit those arguments via this link.]

For my part, it took me a while to learn not to push. In the beginning, I was always afraid I would run out of time. I caught myself going around a curve faster than normal once, saying to myself, “Are you going to drive like a moron now just because you’re on e-logs?” Over time, I’ve come to see that there was enough time because dispatch, who was managing their own learning curve, was figuring out how to not overtask the e-log truck. For example, a longstanding rule here was “take the earliest appointments,” because you can’t reload a truck until it’s empty. Well, sometimes that really put us in a crimp on second morning freight, especially. Seems like a lot of those 4 a.m. appointments have become 9s. Hope that helps. Happy trails. …

A word from reader Bob Glaves on ELDs

I think the judges and the people in FMCSA that think [ELDs are] a good idea need to put an ankle bracelet on for one month so the general public can keep track of them. ELDs are nothing more than an ankle bracelet. One click on a computer and there you are. It takes a court order to put an ankle bracelet on a criminal. FMCSA and the 7th Circuit Court are saying all truck drivers are criminals by mandating ELDs. Think about it. I’m opposed to this B.S. law. –Bob Glaves, Sterling, Ak.

Tax/per-diem strategies that can be short-sighted when it comes time to retire

In response to my post from yesterday, answering a company-driver reader’s question about taxed per-diem payments from his carrier, regular commenter Phil Killerlain noted on my Facebook page the give-and-take of income tax deductions when it comes to Social Security down the line. “What a lot of company drivers do not realize is that in the long run they are losing money if they are paid per-diem before taxes,” he said, “as the companies get out of paying matching Social Security and Medicare,” otherwise known as the employment taxes, on the per-diem amount. “When they retire and start drawing Social Security they have lost around $7.50 per day, income that would have counted towards their SS gross amount, which is the number used to calculate your monthly payment” when you begin drawing Social Security at retirement.

Taking a pre-tax per diem “sounds like a good deal,” Killerlain notes, given it pads your checks, “until you look at the consequences when you retire.”

This is likewise something the recently named Owner-Operator of the Year Gary Buchs has stressed in the past in conversation with me about it for company drivers. And for owner-operators, the inclination of so many to reduce taxable income as much as possible with maximum deductions, including the per diem, he likewise calls a short-sighted strategy when it comes to retirement, ultimately. If you didn’t catch it when it was published originally, you can hear below a bit of my expansive on-highway conversations with Buchs when I rode along on a run of his with water heaters from the Nashville area up to Moline, Ill., last July. He talks a bit about the per diem reimbursement at minute 21: