ELD mandate represents a ‘piece of freedom’ under threat, say readers

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Updated Nov 15, 2016
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Pictured here is one of the dedicated tablets in a ruggedized casing that small fleet owner Bill Frerichs has installed in each of his Volvo tractors, today running the non-395.15-compliant BigRoad logbook app. Says Frerichs of his guarded embrace of e-logs with a plan to turn to a fully compliant AOBRD later in the year, “I would have probably made this move a couple of years ago.” Like so many others, “I’m kind of waiting on the ruling,” he says. “I don’t want to find out that a year from now, I have to do something else.”

In the mailbag podcast above, three views of the ELD mandate show the strong opposition felt among many in Overdrive‘s audience, with more than one of the callers noting the sense of freedom that being an owner-operator has traditionally entailed as under attack.

Those opposed to the mandate will be happy to hear that the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s moves to push against the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s final rule have begun with Friday’s filing in the federal 7th Circuit court of a petition for review.

We’ll continue to follow developments on the legal front. Meantime, more here on the unexpected “silver lining” in the rule, if you can call the pre-2000 model year truck exception that.

What’s your view of the ELD mandate? If you’re reading on a smartphone, tap the image to call and leave us a message to weigh in. We’ll round up responses in a special mailbag podcast. Alternately, drop a comment below. If you’re on a desktop, call 530-408-6423. Make sure to tell us your name and state of residence.What’s your view of the ELD mandate? If you’re reading on a smartphone, tap the image to call and leave us a message to weigh in. We’ll round up responses in a special mailbag podcast. Alternately, drop a comment below. If you’re on a desktop, call 530-408-6423. Make sure to tell us your name and state of residence.

According to Overdrive‘s sister company RigDig Business Intelligence, which among other things measures the size and other characteristics of the population of Class 8 trucks on the road today by looking at just what vehicles have been inspected or involved in a reportable crash, among other data, pre-2000 model year trucks make up a fairly small percentage of the total number of trucks hauling freight of any kind today. The raw number of such trucks, around 243,000, is just 15 percent of the total trucks shown as active in RigDig’s customary 24-month lookback.

As has been suggested by no small number of readers, in some owners’ efforts to avoid having to comply with electronic-log use, assuming the rule makes it to fruition over the next few years, those older trucks could be increasingly valuable pieces of equipment.

The active pre-2000 Class 8 truck population in the U.S., by carrier size

Source for data: RigDig Business Intelligence

Note Cliff Downing‘s comment in my prior post from last week. Others sounded off in similar fashion — a reader posting  as “John Jacob Jingleheimerschmidt” cracked wise: “For Sale: my 1996 FLD — $1,000,000. That’s right $1,000,000 – not a typo!”

In the rule’s text itelf, the FMCSA estimated the population of pre-2000 Class 8s slightly lower (at just more than 200,000) than RigDig’s numbers, which are based on activity — if a truck wasn’t inspected or involved in a crash in the last two years, by and large, it won’t be reflected in their numbers.

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Notice, however, just who by and large benefits from the pre-2000 model year exception. Carriers with 1-9 trucks own the majority of such vehicles operating today, according to RigDig, or almost 60 percent of verified active 1999 and older vehicles. Include fleets of up to 20 trucks and you can account for 7 of every 10 pre-2000 trucks on the road today.

A lot of Overdrive readers among them, no doubt — nearly a third indicated their truck was a 1999 or older model not running e-logs in recent polling (the orange bars in the graph below indicate those not running an e-log today, the blue indicate those who are). Unless those operators are leased to a carrier who would require e-logs under the mandate as terms of the lease, those operators would be free to continue utilizing paper after ELD mandate implementation.

Distribution of Overdrive readers’ trucks by model year and current e-log use (blue)

That is to say nothing about what the enforcement environment might look like for those still on paper logs. And if you’re not running a 1999 or older truck currently, noted Landstar-leased Gary Buchs, going out and purchasing an older truck simply to avoid an ELD at this point could easily be a rash decision, of course. “The emotions are high right now,” said Buchs late last week. “One of the parts of the discussion is ‘Wow, I’m just going to buy the older equipment.'”

Buchs, who himself runs in a 2000 Freightliner Century (and yes, he’s been outfitted with an electronic log for a while now, following his voluntary adoption after Landstar began requiring it of new owner-operators there), urges anyone contemplating such a decision to make a careful consideration of the “overall operating cost of that older equipment. It could easily far outstrip how much e-logs might cut into their ability to operate. I think about what my maintenance shop owner told me: ‘When trucks went to the electronic engine, I used to do an in-frame once a week. I do about six a year now.’ That’s how much of a difference there is in how the engines operate.”

Many of the trucks exempted from the ELD mandate have those engines, too, though. The Cat 3406E, Detroit’s Series 60, Cummins’ N14 from that late mid-late 1990s period all have been held up by many over the years as some of the best-performing diesel engines ever built.

Time wears down a piece of machinery, though, as you all well know, whether partly controlled by a computer or not. “If operators rush in and then they run into a huge maintenance problem,” says Buchs, disaster would be the result. “One of the biggest reasons people fail — they get hit with a devastating bill for maintenance.”

As for that situation of an older refurbished engine installed in a newer truck — one reader asked specifically about his 2016 glider with a 1999 motor — the rule is rather clear on such cases as long as it’s in fact possible to run an ELD connected to an ECM, i.e. the rule’s clear as long as the engine has an ECM to be connected to. The model year of the truck, as indicated by the VIN, is the deciding factor FMCSA has offered to qualify for the exception/exemption.

I put the rare hypothetical to FMCSA of a 2001 model year truck that’s got a 1980s-built mechanical engine in it, though, and noted the impossibility of running an ELD in such a truck, given ELDs, as defined by the rule, must interface with the ECM. What is this hypothetical operator to do?

The only response I’ve been able to get so far is a simple reiteration of what the rule says about the pre-2000 exception. As FMCSA spokesman Duane DeBruyne put it, “the Agency recognizes that an older engine might be installed in a model year 2000 or newer vehicle.  However, the rule focuses on the model year of the commercial motor vehicle – not the engine.”

Any readers here in the situation as described, with a fully mechanical model engine in a 2000 or newer model truck? There’s a definite double-bind sort of effect for such equipment, as the rule is written, it seems to me, making compliance with the mandate impossible.

I’ve heard a lot about getting out of the business the last several days from a variety of operators. Among small fleet operators and independents with their own authority, about 7 in 10 noted they’d consider either early retirement or another line of work before they’d run with an electronic log back in March 2014, when this rule was proposed.

We asked a version of the following poll question back then. For those of you reading, what’s your view of it as of this moment?