The ELD mandate deadline: Unresolved issues

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Every once in a while, a huge regulation controversy pops up, and virtually everybody takes a side. The beauty of democracy is that we have the power to affect such changes. However, there is one problem. What happens to those issues, which do not get that big of a platform?

The ELD mandate has stirred the pot in trucking and logistics circles, but the general public has only a minimal idea of it – or perhaps none at all.

Because of that, the forced use of electronic logging devices (ELDs) has largely gone unnoticed, along with the issues it presents. Whether you are affected by it or not, this controversy matters.

The ELD deadline is knocking on the door, but it seems like the transition has not been going smoothly.

And to make matters worse, several unresolved issues present serious grounds for concern. Let’s explore those together and see what the future holds.

What is the ELD mandate?

Before we can even talk about the issues, we first need to see what the ELD mandate even is. Since the topic is fairly extensive, I will only give you a brief rundown. If you want to learn more about it, I have written an extensive article on the ELD: what it is, who needs it, and why.

In short, the ELD (or E-Log) is a tracking device meant for truck drivers and carriers. By tracking hours of service, it can supposedly help truckers stay in line. Since they have to take regular breaks, the ELD would make tracking that fairly easy.

In addition, ELDs help with printing out hour logs when necessary. That, in turn, will aid in cutting down on future paperwork. Also, an ELD-fitted truck can be tracked 24 hours a day – which is impossible with the previously used paper logs.

At first glance, it seems like adopting the ELD is a pretty good step. When is it happening then? The deadline is December 16th, 2019. By then all trucks, to which the mandate applies, have to be fitted with an ELD. However, truckers have pointed out extensive issues with the use of such devices. Many of them have yet to be resolved.

Potential issues with ELDs

Figuring out the problems of electronic logging devices can be an intricate task. There are voices on all sides of the issue. Still, here are a few of the “technical” ELD concerns:

  • Tracking is too detailed. The constant surveillance extends beyond hours of service. Many people have raised concerns that tracking the use of brakes, speed, and idling, for example, can often paint the wrong picture. It is not clear what conclusions someone may draw from such data.
  • Vulnerable to tampering. We all know that electronic devices can be hacked and tampered with. This raises concerns about the validity of any collected data. It is also unclear what other issues such tampering may cause.
  • Possible failures. Technical issues with such devices are not excluded. It is not clear what happens if ELDs start to cause problems with data tracking. If they are substantial, an analysis may catch and waive these issues. But what if they are small, but important enough to put the driver in trouble, without a way to easily dismiss them?

Yet with all the issues, the FMCSA has stood its ground insisting on the use of ELDs. Truckers still had a small win in that the ELDs have to be manufactured with specific restrictions. They do not completely deal with the potential issues, but can at least minimize them.

Still, the mandate has not gone away. Affected drivers and companies had from December 18th, 2017 until December 16th, 2019 to fit their trucks with such devices. During this period truckers could gain first-hand experience of ELDs. Were they right to have concerns?

Has the main argument for ELDs been invalidated?

One of the most significant arguments for the use of ELDs is dealing with truck driver’s fatigue. The adoption of ELDs would supposedly result in fewer crashes and lethal accidents. Since E-logs track hours of service in a strict fashion, drivers would be better incentivized to take their scheduled breaks.

This might have worked if E-logs tracked absolutely everything. However, since many have pointed out how this could backfire, ELDs now have only partial tracking. Some claim that this ultimately defeats the purpose of the device.

To add more weight, a recent study found that the use of ELDs does not reduce accidents. While drivers do adhere more strictly to the hours-of-service (HOS) regulations now, it has not led to the desired effect.

The Small Business in Transportation Coalition (SBTC) has since demanded FMCSA to accept their exemption petition. The petition wants contractors and carriers with under 50 employees to be exempt from the mandate. The SBTC has pointed out that ELDs don’t have the intended effect and could be making things worse.

Facing the concerns of the ELD use

SBTC has taken a position that the mandate is not a necessary measure to enforce the HOS regulations. In fact, it is not even in the public interest. Since E-logs primarily track hours of service, truck drivers in small companies have been resorting to speeding to account for productivity losses.

In short, truckers are stuck between a rock and a hard place – they either have to speed or face lower salaries due to worse productivity. The concerns are not even about “freedom” anymore, they have been reduced to basic survival.

SBTC tried hard to point out the destructive sides of the E-log devices. The coalition even attempted a signed petition to the White House in October, which demanded to immediately suspend the ELD rule. Though the petition collected 10 000 signatures in less than 72 hours, it failed to reach the required 100 000. Currently, it is not clear how things will develop, but the deadline is closing in. What are the possible outcomes though?

What will come out of the ELD mandate?

Aside from driving safety concerns, we also have to point out the low adoption rates. Though the time is running out, many truckers are yet to comply with the mandate. Surprisingly, it is not because of ELD issues.

Truth be told, smaller carriers (under 50 people) suffer the most from the mandate. And yet, it is the larger ones that are yet to adopt the ELDs for their trucks. They are waiting until the last possible moment because fitting a lot of trucks with the devices is quite the investment. To make it worthwhile, they want to have as much time as possible to pick the best device. And this may cause a serious problem.

Firstly, E-log is a new device that every trucker needs to get used to. It cannot be done in a couple of weeks. So, we may expect numerous drivers who have yet to face the stress of using the ELD.

Secondly, like any other electronic device ELDs can have issues. When you have had some time to work them out, you at least know what to expect. And you have the time to handle it. The thing is that new ELD users do not have much time to go through all that. It leads us to two other questions: Do ELDs only create problems? And do the benefits outweigh them?

Are ELDs all bad?

The issue is that the complete adoption of ELDs does not leave the sector any better if the statistics are to be believed. Even if all people comply, will that bring about a positive change? Should the grim trends continue, it may be a negative one.

Of course, we cannot say anything with certainty. A case could be made that more ELDs will save lives. An objection to the study mentioned above is that we still have not had enough time for companies to adapt.

This argument may be quite valid if you think about it. Transitions are usually rough, and some degree of pushback is to be expected. ELD proponents have pointed out that if truckers do not want ELDs, because they prefer to violate HOS regulations, they have a different problem. Its solution does not lie with getting rid of E-logs altogether but fixing it on the carrier’s end.

Interestingly enough, ELDs are marketed as a good way to monitor bad drivers. Yet to many it seems like ELDs ultimately make drivers bad. Does the blame then lie on the carrier completely? This question is yet to be answered.

What do you think about the ELD mandate?

Since Corsia Logistics is a car shipping company, you may expect us to take sides. However, in my mind, this is not about sides. In the end, it comes down to the safety of drivers and other people in general. We want things to develop in the best way possible for all of us.

If all sides work together to come up with a solution that makes ELDs work, that would be great. Perhaps it may be decided that ELDs do not carry out their intended purpose and the mandate could be rolled back. We don’t know yet. In any case, we’ll soon find out.

How do you see the situation? Is the ELD mandate fair, or should there have been more data to support the decision? Maybe instead of two years, the transition period could have been longer. I will be happy to hear your take on the issue!

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About the Author:

Atanas Nikolov is a creative with an affinity for psychology and science. He believes the universe is a wonderful place to explore, and no universe is greater than the one inside ourselves. He enjoys a good debate, and can always bring an alternative viewpoint to the table. He also loves reading fiction and poetry. It is highly likely that he writes some as well, but these rumors have not been proven yet.
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