(Excerpts Featured in Truck News)
A panel of industry partners met this year at the TransCore Link Logistics annual meeting to discuss key industry topics. I was particularly intrigued by the panel’s comments on Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) and the foreseen impact they will have on the trucking industry across North America. Transport Canada has yet to set a date for eLog compliance, however, the CTA confirmed that a compliance date would be set 1 to 2 years after a final rule is published in 2017 (Today’s Trucking). For now, most Canadian carriers are already working to meet the US compliance date in December 2017.
The move to ELDs is a point of contention for some, but on the flip side, there has been a push towards this mandate to help level the playing field across the industry. There is a definite correlation between Hours of Service (HOS) and rates and the TransCore panel agrees that we should see an increase in rates once ELDs are fully implemented (Truck News).
In 2015, it was reported that 485,232 HOS violations were issued across the US and since the “CSA’s Data Trail series began…in 2013, there have never been as many states where HOS violations account for more than 20 percent of all violations” (Overdrive). Overdrive also reports that “carriers with fewer than 20 trucks, while accounting for just around a third of all active trucks on the road for-hire, received 60 percent of all hours of service violations”. These numbers are evidence of a more inequitable game at play.
Whether a driver takes the initiative to alter a logbook to gain drive time, or they are being persuaded by an avaricious carrier, the result can be a downward pressure on rates overall. This creates a disadvantage for those who are compliant. Those following the rules can’t compete. They can’t afford to extend the same rates as the non-compliant. TransCore panelist Bob Cascagnette suggests that new operational realities will potentially “turn a few of these overnight lanes into two-day lanes” (Truck News).
A recent commentary by Rolf Lockwood, VP of Editorial at Newcom speaks to the “dark side” of ELDs. He points out that one of the drawbacks “will be a total absence of HOS flexibility.” He continues by saying “I don’t mean that it’s OK to fudge the books in big ways. But when a driver runs out of hours 28 miles from home, I want him to cheat” (truckinginfo.com). This is one reason why ELDs are being mandated. There are certainly those who manipulate log books for financial gain, which is why ELDs were suggested as a way to help level the playing field. However, there are perhaps many more drivers who misrepresent time on manual logs for reasons like the one described by Mr. Lockwood.
In speaking to Lockwood’s comment, I believe it is better to err on the side of honesty. If you are out of HOS and 28 miles from home you have two choices: go into violation to get home and log the time truthfully or simply shut down. Having said that, it is important to acknowledge that each situation is unique and infractions come with potential consequences. If a driver goes into violation, they need to be prepared for what could happen. It’s unfortunate that drivers are inconvenienced on the job. Not getting home in time could mean they don’t get to their kid’s graduation or meet other important commitments in their life. There are pros and cons like in any profession and trucking is not for everyone. It’s not my intention to sound harsh, but if you sign up to drive OTR, be prepared to take the good with the bad and adapt as the industry evolves.
There are umpteen examples where drivers believe they have valid reasons for falsifying a log. Some argue that current HOS guidelines don’t meet the needs of drivers and the realities they face on the job. Some believe that they have no other choice but to alter their logs to account for delays and other factors beyond their control. It has been suggested that HOS issues should have been addressed prior to mandating ELDs, however, HOS rules are not changing anytime soon and ELD compliance will become reality nonetheless. At the end of the day, I suggest that falsifying a log book is never the answer. I don’t believe it is OK to “fudge” a log book to make more money or to get home. Industry regulations are in place to protect us all and circumventing the law is not the answer for any reason. I believe that ELDs are good because they limit a driver’s ability to run illegal to a greater extent than manual logs. However, this will not solve the problem entirely. Enforcement must be made a priority and I’m deeply concerned by the lack of enforcement on the part of the DOT and MTO when it comes to ELDs. I’ve spoken to countless drivers on eLogs and they have unanimously consented that there is considerably less review and scrutiny of their eLogs by officials than when they were on manual logs. Come compliance day, I hope that officials don’t take ELDs for granted. They must continue to monitor eLogs just the same as paper logs, especially if driver audits are not conducted more readily than they are now.
Hours of Service are no joke and seemingly insignificant infractions can entail huge consequences. Take the cautionary case of Gary Blakley, an Ontario truck driver who was a mere 16 minutes over his HOS and driving with an out-of-date log in December 2013. He crashed into a police cruiser and ultimately killed a state trooper. The DA in the case stated that “the tragedy was avoidable” and that if “Mr. Blakley had decided to end his drive…we wouldn’t be here today” (Times Union). I’m sorry to say this is not the only occasion where an HOS violation resulted in disastrous consequences, and in this case, the driver was sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison for aggravated criminally negligent homicide. At the very least, I hope ELDs will save us from ourselves, and by us I mean drivers and carriers because we are all at risk when tragedies like this occur. ELDs will help drivers keep their log books current and will hopefully deter drivers from operating outside of their HOS. Additionally, I hope that those carriers and independents that operate illegally for financial gain will be weeded out of the industry as a result of higher rates once ELDs are fully realized.
When part of the industry is willing to manipulate the system and disregard safety measures like HOS for profit, it forces us to consider what else they are willing to cut corners on. One issue that comes to mind is vehicle maintenance. In August 2016, one of several commercial vehicle safety blitzes conducted each year in southern Ontario was carried out in Waterloo Region. The result of which is quite startling. Of the 162 vehicles inspected, 70 were put out of service on the spot. This means that nearly half (43%) of the vehicles inspected via this one day blitz were not maintained enough to even be on the road. As well, “145 charges were laid and 24 sets of license plates were removed” (570 News). Once ELDs become law, I expect that maintenance infractions will take on new life in terms of inspections and handing out violations. Trucking companies and independents that comply with vehicle safety and take maintenance seriously now will be in much better shape than those that don’t.
How does this weigh on the ever looming driver shortage? With potentially fewer players to compete and fairer practice becoming the standard, rates should increase as a result. Better pay could be attractive enough to entice a new crop of drivers, but as the industry continues to evolve, it’s incredibly difficult to predict the future. What it means to be a trucker or to run a trucking company in 2016 might be vastly different 10 years from now and beyond. Only time will tell. I do hope that the drivers and carriers operating in the years following the ELD mandate will inherently be operating at a higher standard. The fact remains that ELDs are the new reality for the trucking industry. If their implementation means that unfair players can’t compete anymore by running illegal then I’m all for it. The time has come to eliminate those who undercut and devalue our industry and as well as those who create unsafe situations by circumventing the law.