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Final rule unveiled for electronic logging devices

Fleets must prepare for the shift to electronic logs.
/ Industry News & Trends /

By: Phil Sneed

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released its final rule regarding electronic logging devices. In essence, drivers will have to track their driving electronically, rather than using paper logs.

There is still much debate about this ruling within the industry, and the debate will likely continue for the foreseeable future. Carriers, shippers and drivers now have two years to make the switch to electronic logging.

Known as the Electronic Logging Devices and Hours of Service Supporting Documents, the ruling makes changes to the way records are kept, the first change since 1938, according to Anthony Foxx, the current U.S. Department of Transportation secretary.

"Carriers, shippers and drivers now have two years make the switch."

"This automated technology not only brings logging records into the modern age, it also allows roadside safety inspectors to unmask violations of federal law that puts lives at risk," he added in a press release.

FMCSA estimates the switch to ELD will save 26 lives, while preventing approximately 562 accidents. By reducing reliance on paper, there will be an estimated annual net benefit of $1 billion.

While it may be two years until the rule takes effect, drivers and other professionals in the trucking industry should take the time to delve into the ruling to gain a complete understanding of what will now be required.

What's in the ruling?
There are four main components of FMCSA's ruling, the first being commercial drivers having to make the switch from paper logs to ELDs within two years. The agency estimates roughly 3 million drivers will therefore be affected.

The ruling also shed light on some of the performance and design specifications, as not every piece of technology can be used for recording purposes. Furthermore, the final documentation takes into account specific concerns and performance requirements to help manufacturers design compliant systems. In turn, drivers and fleet owners will also be able to make informed decisions.

For instance, the American Trucking Association questioned whether such a device could realistically handle and produce the volume of information proposed by the FMCSA. The ATA is worried recording devices will need to be built with even more memory, which will result in a higher purchasing price while also affecting design flexibility and impacting potential future upgrades.

The FMCSA responded by saying individual ELDs only need to retain information from the previous seven days and 24-hour period. Six months' worth of electronic files are not projected to be large. However, it is up to the carrier to record and keep six months' worth of data. It is possible this portion of the rule may lead to some confusion over who in the logistics management chain has to store data and who doesn't.

The third portion of the ruling ensures commercial drivers are not subject to any form of harassment that may result from information filed by ELDs. In fact, the final rules provide technical and procedural provisions to protect truckers.

In the ruling's official documentation, some commentators noted ELDs will essentially serve as a tool to monitor drivers or the device will not actually curb harassment. Some drivers told the agency they may drive while stressed.

Other commentators said the opposite, as they believe ELDs will reduce tension and improve relations between truckers and dispatchers. Since important information will be recorded on a constant basis, there is a new level of transparency to prevent harassment.

The final section of the new rule establishes new hours-of-service supporting documents. These documents often contain information regarding fuel receipts, for instance. FMCSA stated the new requirements will further eliminate an over-reliance on paper.

Concerns over the ruling
Reactions to the final ruling were both positive and cautionary. In a press release, ATA president Bill Graves said the use of ELDs represents a historic leap for everyone involved in commercial transportation. The organization has advocated for electronic log monitoring since 2010.

"This regulation will change the trucking industry – for the better – forever," said Graves. "An already safe and efficient industry will get more so with the aid of this proven technology." 

The Truckloads Carrier Association also voiced its support for the rule and hope it will simplify regulatory compliance, according to Fleet Owner. David Heller, TCA's director of safety and policy, told the publication ELDs will further the efforts to protect drivers from coercion.

"Fears exist over privacy concerns, in addition to the costs."

However, the rule was not warmly embraced by everyone. According to The Wall Street Journal, fears exist over privacy concerns, in addition to the costs associated with implementing the technology.

In an interview with The Journal, Patrick Hockaday, a 56-year old driver from Texas, said he is worried about ELDs not taking into account natural sleep patterns. The rigid structure may then force some drivers to stop in unsafe areas or lose out on miles – and money – by having to look for parking.

Smaller shippers may also experience difficulties with recruiting and driver retention. Costs will likely increase as shippers look to hire more drivers to make up for strict regulations regarding hours of service, and with ELDs, all information will be under the microscope.

The Journal also reported analysts believe ELDs will limit freight capacity.

Fleets and drivers must prepare
In light of the ongoing debate surrounding ELDs, everyone in the commercial transportation industry must now take steps to properly prepare.

ELD manufacturers are confident technology has greatly improved within the last five years to further reduce costs, according to Fleet Owner. By preparing earlier rather than later, fleets can find the best devices at reasonable prices, while also adjusting to the new regulations.