Fleets Say E-Log Proposal Will Level Playing Field

By Jonathan S. Reiskin, Associate News Editor

This story appears in the March 24 print edition of Transport Topics.

Many fleet managers already use electronic logging devices, but still welcome the new federal proposal because it will require their competitors to do so as well.

Support for the mandatory electronic logging of driver hours was found not just at the nation’s largest fleets, but at small and medium carriers as well.

“This is the best thing to happen to the industry since they put the mules back in the barn,” said Steve Rush, a tank truck executive with 49 years in trucking.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration released the proposal March 13.

It would give all interstate truck operators two years to install and use electronic logging devices in each vehicle after the final rule is published. There’s also a two-year “grandfather” provision for existing devices that don’t meet the new ELD standard.

A major source of opposition to the rule remains the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which said it will file a complaint during the 60-day comment period, calling the proposal flawed.

Thomas Albrecht, a stock analyst who follows trucking for BB&T Capital Markets, said if it takes effect, the rule will contribute to less freight-hauling capacity for shippers.

Rush, president of liquid bulk hauler Carbon Express, said his company has been using electronic logging for six years, during which time his fleet has nearly doubled in size to 45 trucks, and ELDs contributed to the growth.

“Not only do drivers want electronic logging, it’s critical for them,” said Rush, who started his career as a driver. “It means management can’t over-work the driver. He can say to management, ‘I’m done for the day and you can’t do a damn thing about it, so call me in 10 hours.’ ”

Tom Benusa, chief information officer of truckload firm Transport America, said ELDs have value.

“It looks as if the whole industry will be operating on the same format,” said Benusa.

Transport America has about 1,550 trucks, with 90% owned by the company. Benusa said all company trucks — and more than 80% of the owner-operators’ vehicles — have in-cab units that do hours logging as well as other functions.

An ELD only records and stores operational data, so some carriers use in-cab communication units instead that perform a variety of functions, including hours logging.

Southern Counties Express, a drayage carrier with more than 200 power units, is midway through putting in-cab units in all tractors. Rodney Fraley, the firm’s safety director, said drivers, mostly owner-operators, initially accept electronic logging because they like the other features on the system, including Skype, navigation and streaming video.

“It’s a carrot-and-stick issue, balancing what you get for them in addition to compliance for you,” Fraley said. “Drivers resist the change at first, but eventually buy into it. The logging helps with their [Compliance, Safety, Accountability] scores,” he said. But OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer bristled at the rule.

“It looks like a hell of a mess,” he said, calling it “needlessly complex.” He said some of his association members use the devices, but there should be no governmental mandate.

“For small businesses ELDs don’t make sense, they just add cost,” Spencer said.

He added that he does not think the devices record hours accurately or produce better safety records.

Spencer said the group is certain to file objections during the comment period, but was not likely to bring another lawsuit. The organization challenged FMCSA’s 2010 ELD rule and a federal appellate court vacated the rule in 2011.

“We would prefer not to go that route [a lawsuit]. We will make the agency aware of our views and try to work it out,” Spencer said.

Albrecht said the ELD rule is one of several regulations that will tighten capacity; and many small fleets can only succeed if their drivers run longer than the legal limit.

“They would not be able to survive on 100,000 to 110,000 miles a truck annually versus 140,000 or more today,” Albrecht said.

At Con-way Truckload safety director Chris Shilhanek said his fleet of more than 2,500 trucks is 100% ELD-equipped.

“It’s not an option,” he said, adding, “We have higher compliance with hours of service because of ELDs. It takes away the chance . . . to avoid compliance.”