Department of Transportation to Mandate Electronic Tracking in All Trucks

A bill proposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), part of the Department of Transportation (DOT) is poised to automate trip logging in the commercial trucking industry. Likely to go into effect in 2016, the bill will require all commercial trucks to use electronic logging devices (ELDs) to track the time spent driving vs. resting.

Currently, drivers track their times with paper logbooks. These are far from foolproof of course, and the FMCSA believes that the number of errors and falsifications are significant enough to merit mandatory, industry-wide ELD use. Legitimate mistakes certainly happen, but tampering with logs is an issue since drivers are paid by distance traveled and have incentive to drive as long and as far as possible before stopping to rest. When this happens, the truck driver becomes fatigued, less alert, and more likely to make mistakes that could endanger the driver and other motorists.

There is already a system in place to deal with driver fatigue. “Hours of service” dictate how long a driver can be on the road. Drivers can operate for up to 11 hours in one sitting, and only if they’ve taken a 30-minute break sometime between their third and eighth hour behind the wheel. After 11 hours, they must stop and rest for at least 10 hours. FMCSA studies have shown that driver performance begins to suffer significantly between 11 and 12 hours, while the effects between 10 and 11 hours are much less negative.

Also, every 168 hours (one week), the driver must take 34 hours off as a “restart.” This is because the effects of mental and physical fatigue are cumulative. Even with up to 10 hours of sleep every night, driving for 11 hours a day for weeks on end begins to wear the body and mind down, making it easier to make mistakes. These rules continue to be opposed, however, with some studies concluding that the FMCSA’s experiments that came up with the hour limits were flawed.

The ELDs will take human error out of the equation by tracking and recording the truck’s movements in real-time. This data is transmitted back to any office workers who are supporting the driver. This saves the driver time as well, eliminating tedious pencil and paper record-keeping that would otherwise eat up downtime.

The new rules also include provisions to keep carriers from harassing drivers through the ELDs’ communication features, or using the data to pressure a driver into driving too long or too quickly. Carriers who break this rule will be able to be fined up to $11,000.

Response from drivers has been mixed. While some are accepting of the new rules or have even already automated their logs, many see it as an intrusion on their privacy and way of doing business. In early March, some even started a petition at whitehouse.gov. As is standard on the peteition site, reaching 100,000 signatures would have resulted in an official response. The petition failed to meet that goal.

At American Truck Group, we value our customers’ safety. Our compliance and insurance departments to everything necessary to keep the owner-operators who buy or rent from us safe, legal, and successful on the road.