ELD rule public comments mixed, with renewed focus on hours rule

Night In Nashville, Loading DockIn one of the comments on the public docket under the proposed mandate for electronic-logging-device use by interstate motor carriers and drivers, driver and commenter Mark Olsen of Clinton, Utah, echoed the overall mixed positive and negative nature of the comments all told. However, he rejoined arguments in favor of the need for ELDs with a message heard increasingly among Overdrive readers and other industry observers and participants — that the hours of service rules in general are the bigger problem as regards true safety. 

“An ankle bracelet is an ankle bracelet,” wrote owner-operator Gordon Alkire, reflecting the majority opinion in opposition to ELDs in comments under this poll, whose preliminary results are above. The poll remains open via this link, where you can likewise read through current commentary or join the discussion.“An ankle bracelet is an ankle bracelet,” wrote owner-operator Gordon Alkire, reflecting the majority opinion in opposition to ELDs in comments under this poll, whose preliminary results are above. The poll remains open via this link, where you can likewise read through current commentary or join the discussion.

While Olsen said he has used both electronic logs and paper logs, and that electronic logs probably are the better option, if “you want safety on highways,” he added, “remove the 14-hour [window of on-duty time] and you will see a better change in driver compliance.

“As it is now with hours of service — they are not safe at all. This is from real world experience. Drivers now are speeding through work zones and truck stops and speeding where possible due to lack of flexibility. They’re running tired because we can’t stop at all to rest.” 

More flexible sleeper splits and other hours options have been the subject of long-ongoing discussion by owner-operators and drivers since the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration brought the 14-hour window into play more than a decade ago. With recent news that there has been more congressional attention to FMCSA’s work crafting the changes introduced to the hours of service last year, Overdrive‘s poll question of the week probed the notion that ELDs might be more appealing were the hours rules themselves not so restrictive.

Reflecting the view of the majority of respondents, however, regular Overdrive commenter Jason Haggard, responding to the question in the new Overdrive’s Trucking Pro LinkedIn group, noted that privacy issues still trump concern over the hours rules when it comes to his opposition to ELDs. A revamp of the hours of service would do nothing, he noted, to address his concern that “24/7 monitoring by force is a violation of certain rights,” he says. “When the EOBR, now ELD, was first brought into discussion it was supposed to be for habitual violators only. Now it has grown into a proposed mandatory device for everyone. Furthermore the FMCSA has continued to state it will make the roads safer and has launched a campaign stating this to the general public. …

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“What I see is the government pressing new regulations into service all of the time and then finding out their experiment was wrong from the beginning.”  (See related: GAO’s report on CSA.)

On the public docket for the rule, commenters thus far have come down on both sides of the issue, with some saying the mandate is a needed safety mechanism and others dismissing the rule as unnecessarily burdensome and as a privacy intrusion.

One anonymous commenter looked on favorably not relative to the safety potential of ELDs but for their potential to spur structural changes in driver pay. The devices, the commenter noted, could force all parties to act responsibly, rather than motivated solely by productivity and “greed:”

I see what drivers are put through by dispatchers and business owners all in the name of making money. You want to see the real problem? Follow the money! ELDs are just a first step in driver compensation reform. There needs to be a combination of mileage pay and hourly pay for wait time. Businesses need to be held accountable for even asking a driver to violate HOS in order to “get the job done.” If we would all police ourselves, then ELDs won’t make any difference. If we are trying to find a way to cheat, then ELD’s will force those who cheat to think of another way or simply play the game by the rules. 

Commenter Alan Moore of Blackfoot, Ind., said he thinks the agency “may have the rule right this time,” referring to FMCSA’s previous attempts that were vacated in court, most recently in 2011, when a federal court threw out the electronic onboard recorder mandate due to concerns over the devices’ ability to be used to harass drivers. “[The rule] took long enough,” he wrote. “I like the rule. We need something done about the cowboys that are left to run however they please.”

Likewise, commenter Brock Girling simply wrote, “It’s about time the electronic log became mandatory.”

Others, particularly those who say they’re small carriers or owner-operators, contend that the cost of complying with the rule could force them out of business.

Warren Smith, Gatesville, Texas: Thanks for putting small trucking companies out of business. I am struggling to make payments on trucks and trailers now without the additional expenses of the federal government. I am a two-truck operation, and I work hard at keeping up with all of the compliance regs now. I feel you are going to be hurting this country more than helping it, because having to pass on the cost of this — everyone will suffer. 

Martin Sulak of Waco, Texas, expressed similar sentiment: I guess what the FMCSA wants is to run the independent drivers/owners out of business! You have so many regs now it’s funny! What we need is a house cleaning in Washington with some people that have some common sense! In the cattle/livestock industry, wait until the consumer asks why they are paying so much more for their beef! When the big truck carriers take over this industry, watch what happens to the prices!

Commenter Sean Adams of St. Joseph, Minn., equates ELDs to a punishment, suggesting mandatory use of the devices be targeted at companies with poor CSA scores. He also said ELD use should be up to carriers, rather than an industry-wide requirement: Drivers don’t like to be watched, just like anyone would not like their boss or supervisor watching and questioning their every move. There are millions of safe drivers out there that are very responsible, and this is an action for the small minority of the bad drivers. If you want to mandate it have it listed that companies with bad [CSA] scores have to have them. Not the companies that are following the rules like they are supposed to. Don’t put the whole class in detention because of one bad grade.

Comments on the mandate can be made online 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. –Todd Dills and James Jaillet contributed to this report.

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