ATA Seeks Quick Action on DOT E-Log Mandate

By Michele Fuetsch, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Aug. 20 print edition of Transport Topics.

Bill Graves, president of American Trucking Associations, urged the Department of Transportation to quickly begin a rulemaking process that would mandate electronic logging devices on all trucks.

“In ATA’s view, ELDs are the best option to improve hours-of-service compliance and, if the underlying HOS rules are based on sound research, ELDs are a very good tool by which additional truck safety gains can be achieved,” Graves wrote in a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The transportation reauthorization law signed by President Obama last month requires that DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration have a final rule for the electronic logging devices by October 2013. The rule would take effect in 2015.

The terms “electronic logging devices” and “electronic onboard recorders” are often used interchangeably. ELDs generally only track drivers’ hours, while EOBRs also can record measurements such speed, idling and braking frequency.

Graves said electronic logging can increase fleet efficiency because it speeds up the roadside inspection process and reduces the paperwork burden on drivers using paper logs.

The new federal mandate “will produce benefits that outpace the cost of implementation,” Graves said.

He also said ATA recognizes that “some in trucking will resist” mandatory electronic logging devices.

“They will point to erroneous data and make inaccurate claims about their limitations,” Graves said. “However, the vast majority of truck safety stakeholders support this requirement because of the potential compliance and safety benefits.”

A DOT spokesman said the agency received Graves’ letter and will provide an official written response.

Before the congressional mandate, FMCSA tried on its own to write rules mandating electronic logging devices, first for carriers with serious hours of-service violations and, then, for nearly all interstate carriers.

The rule for the serious HOS violators was to take effect in June, but the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association sued, saying the rule did not protect drivers from harassment. A federal appeals court agreed and threw out the rule in August 2011.

FMCSA subsequently abandoned the rule for serious violators and delayed its rulemaking for other carriers (2-13, p. 3).

In June, FMCSA awarded a $350,000 grant to the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute to study issues surrounding electronic logging devices.

Researchers will try to determine “whether such devices improve compliance with hours-of-service regulations, how many operators and fleets use them, how much they cost to install and operate and whether there are other benefits of the devices,” the institute said in announcing the grant.

The argument among truckers over the logging devices generally comes down to whether they improve safety or whether they are a tool to harass drivers, Jeff Hickman, the lead researcher on the study, told Transport Topics. “What do they do?” Hickman asked. “What’s going on?”

To find out, he said his research team will study the safety records of drivers and fleets that are already using electronic logging devices.

Some studies circulating say the devices cut down on HOS violations, “but we don’t know,” he said. The studies out now are not research-based and not done by independent research institutes, he said.

The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study is to be completed by late this year.

In a webinar event Aug. 15 for its customers and members of the media, Qualcomm Enterprise Services, one of the largest providers of electronic logging technology, said the devices are reducing log violations. Dave Kraft, director of industry affairs for Qualcomm Enterprise, said such violations fall about 12% annually, due to the spread of electronic logging technology.

Kraft also said, “EOBRs lower job stress for drivers.”

Drivers feel more secure they are within the legal HOS limits when they use the electronic devices, and the devices improve drivers’ time management, he said.

“Drivers do not want to go back to paper logs,” Kraft said.