By Bill Graves
President and CEO
American Trucking Associations
This Opinion piece appears in the Dec. 3 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.
With the dust settling from last month’s elections — and the voters returning to Washington a still-divided government — it is going to be incumbent upon our leaders to find areas of broad agreement to build upon if we are going to move forward as a nation.
While we’ll hear a lot about taxes and spending and a “fiscal cliff” — all important matters, to be sure — we shouldn’t lose sight of smaller but no less important issues. One such issue where the federal government could step up is in the area of highway safety and, specifically, electronic logging.
This summer, a strange and varied coalition came together to press Congress to require that trucks be outfitted with this potentially game-changing technology.
ATA, with support from the commercial motor vehicle enforcement community, the National Transportation Safety Board, AAA, the Teamsters, the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, along with other, smaller, industry groups, were successful in getting a mandate written into the highway bill.
Getting this provision into such an important piece of legislation was a great victory, and one that I and other safety leaders in Washington are quite proud of. However, the victory is a hollow one until the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration follows the law and does what Congress has tasked it to do.
There are certainly issues to be resolved in getting to a final regulation requiring these devices. For example, as a community we need to determine the best ways to share data from the device to the law enforcement community for oversight purposes. We also need to work through other technical issues outlined in the new law.
Compared with Superstorm Sandy and fiscal-cliff concerns, however, these are easy.
To be sure, there will be a group or two that will push back and attempt to postpone or delay progress on this issue. At least one of these groups will attempt to speak for drivers. However, we know what the driver-related data tell us. The American Transportation Research Institute research tells us that 76% of fleets saw an improvement in driver morale after transitioning to electronic logging, and 19% found it was easier to recruit and retain drivers after making the switch.
We also know from existing fleets that have voluntarily adopted electronic logging that drivers, along with operations personnel, plan better. And, once over a short electronic logging learning curve, drivers never want to return to paper.
The safety benefits of these devices should be plain: compliance with the hours-of-service rules leads to lower crash risk. The data from Compliance, Safety, Accountability tell us so, just as the carriers that have voluntarily adopted electronic logging have told us that their violation rates have declined once they made the switch.
Electronic logs improve safety by making compliance with the rules easier, and further, I’d argue that fighting the use of this technology is an endorsement of providing drivers the opportunity to fudge on their logs. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it is an endorsement of the cheating itself . . . not the biggest problem the industry has, but certainly one that exists.
There are those who fear the mandating of electronic logs because it will take away what they feel is a competitive advantage — namely the ability to drive longer than is allowed and perhaps longer than is safe.
Also obvious are the efficiency benefits to carriers and to drivers. Less time spent filling out, checking, rechecking, verifying, storing and retrieving paper logbooks is time that can be spent doing other things. Moving hours-of-service monitoring into the 21st century will help fleets and drivers plan trips better — reducing wasted time and fuel — and will take the tedious burden of paperwork out of the hands of the driver.
FMCSA has had its marching orders from Congress on this issue for nearly three months — and has previously expressed a desire to issue a rule for well longer than that. It is time — indeed, it is past time — for the agency to put forward a rule and to move our industry and our highways into a safer and more efficient future. Change is hard, but years from now we will look back in reflection and comment that this change was necessary.
Bill Graves is a former two-term governor of Kansas. American Trucking Associations, Arlington, Va., is a national trade federation with affiliated associations in every state. ATA owns Transport Topics Publishing Group.