In response to complaints of truckers falling asleep behind the wheel (and the myriad of personal injury lawsuits filed by victims and their loved ones), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has enacted a patchwork of rules and regulations over the last decade to prevent trucker fatigue.
These regulations include everything from restrictions on the consecutive number of hours behind the wheel to mandatory sleep apnea screenings for truckers at higher risk of this potentially dangerous condition. While some truckers bristle at the increased bureaucracy and oversight inherent in these rules, others argue that they don’t go far enough in preventing drivers from falling asleep at the wheel.
However, in December 2017, the hours of service regulation may gain new teeth as the FMCSA’s mandate on electronic logging devices (ELDs) goes into effect. Let’s take a look at what exactly the new regulation entails, and explore how it will affect the trucking industry.
What are the electronic logging requirements?
By December 18, 2017, all rigs manufactured in or after the year 2000 will be required to install ELDs. These devices operate as a sort of “black box,” recording data about the truck’s speed, hours of operation, and GPS location. These ELDs will prevent truckers from being able to fudge their logbooks or other paperwork to cover up hours of service violations, ostensibly reducing the risk of sleep-related accidents on a nationwide basis.
Although this regulation was initially published in 2015, giving the trucking industry two years to comply, it’s estimated that about half of all affected trucks are still without the mandated logging device. A driver or company’s failure to install an ELD prior to the December 18 deadline could risk fines, civil penalties, and other unpleasant consequences, potentially rendering their rig inoperable until an ELD is installed.
What impact will this have on the trucking industry?
Because it’s acknowledged that some truckers have been falsifying their paper logs to reduce the number of on-road hours reported, requiring ELD installation is expected to reduce the nationwide trucking capacity by a noticeable–if not crippling–margin. A similar hit to trucking capacity was observed in 2004, when the hours of service rule was first implemented by the FMCSA and the economy was still in recovery from the mild recession triggered by the war in Iraq.
One large freight broker estimated that this ELD mandate will reduce total truck miles by anywhere from 10 to 20 percent; assuming a 50 percent non-compliance rate, which may be optimistic given the penalties assessed to truckers not in compliance, trucking capacity may be reduced by 5 to 10 percent for the foreseeable future.
However, this isn’t all bad news on the trucking front. With more shippers having recently moved to spot contracts rather than long-term arrangements, those who have remained loyal to their trucking companies will find themselves at the front of the line, enjoying greater flexibility and an ability to dictate terms that won’t be shared by those who have spent the last few years chasing low prices.