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The Great Debate about the ELD Mandate

January 2016

By Lynn Gravley CEO

Welcome to the New Year – 2016 is already in full swing. At the end of 2015, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) finally released their much-anticipated final rule regarding Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs). Although the agency released various rules related to electronic logging systems since Congress enacted the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” (Map 21) bill in 2012, most in the industry consider this mandate the final ruling on the issue. The new mandate attempts to address various concerns brought about by previous rules.

When attempting to understand the full impact of the new mandate, it’s easy to get confused by the terminology. Most reports on the recent and past mandates refer to them as ELD, AOBRD (automatic on-board recording devices), or EOBR (electronic on-board recorders) mandates. It’s important to understand that these terms are used interchangeably in the industry – they simply refer to language used in previous FMCSA rulings on electronic recording devices. Thus, the most recent ruling was written using ELD, thus it has become the ELD mandate. Generally, there is little to no difference between the three types of devices – the most critical component are the various rules and regulations involved in the final ELD mandate issued in December of 2015.

This final ruling was created to take several important issues into account while still providing important guidelines related to electronic recording of a driver’s Record of Duty Status (RODS) as well as Hours of Service (HOS) requirements. For example, earlier mandates allowed for systems that provided electronic RODS, but still relied upon driver pen and paper log books to report HOS. Unfortunately, the discrepancy between these two reporting approaches puts drivers in a precarious situation. By requiring fleets to implement more fully integrated electronic logging systems, the FMCSA hopes to protect both drivers and carriers from dangerous practices.

The ELD mandate requires that this type of electronic logging device must meet specific guidelines including:

  • They must electronically track a driver’s HOS.
  • They must provide an electronic report of RODS.
  • They must be “integrally synchronized” with a truck’s engine (drive segments must be captured by the device). The mandate recognizes most trucks manufactured after 2000 meet this requirement and ones manufactured prior to 2000 will be exempt.

This mandate will affect 3 million drivers and while the benefits for both drivers and carriers are significant, many see this mandate as the final straw. Many say that this rule will be the most significant change for trucking since deregulation in 1980.

While the ATA (American Trucking Association) supports the mandate, OOIDA (Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association) contends that, among other issues, “…the proposed rule’s imposition of electronic monitoring is an unconstitutional deprivation of a driver’s freedom of movement.” Whether this is the final ruling or not, I believe we may continue to hear debate and fall-out over the issue in the coming year.

All this said, it does impose some burden for carriers to install these units. I remember installing Qualcomm units on trucks many years back and the benefits were clear, but the cost was substantial.   In a similar vein, as my trucks were leased to another carrier, I had no option but to comply or leave. Many Owner Operators are facing the same choices today in regards to this ELD mandate.

With this in mind, I was pleased to discover that smartphones and tablets are being utilized as low cost solutions for compliance with the mandate.   These lower cost compliance options can help ease the burden on small fleets as technological changes continue to drive regulation and industry standards.

While the major carriers mostly support this new technology, many of the smaller fleets and owner operators seem to rally against these requirements. Despite circulating opinions, our Federal Government mandates this is the way it will be. It will be up to all of us to work through this as best we can. Based on my experience, these advancements will be a major contributor to what one analyst calls “…the mother of all capacity shortages” headed our way. I remember recruiting drivers 20 years ago and receiving some sage advice from the safety director of a major carrier. This person would not hire a driver unless she was willing to let that driver operate on the same roads as her 16 year old daughter that had just received her learner’s permit. Safety was, and will always be, important to all of us. However, getting everyone to agree on the best way to ensure our roadways remain safe, while not upending the fragile capacity issue, remains a challenge.