White House issues long-awaited ‘e-logging’ rules for trucking industry, Arkansas officials cheer

by Wesley Brown ([email protected]) 244 views 

The White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) this week issued the long-delayed final rules on Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) for the trucking industry, opening the door for the federal mandate to be published in the Federal Register with strong support from Arkansas’ largest trucking group.

Arkansas Trucking Association (ATA) President Shannon Samples Newton said Friday the “Washington, D.C.-speak” is that the final version of the ELD rule will be published by the end of November, which will then will trigger a two-year window for carriers and owner-operators to comply with the final regulations or face costly fines.

“Our association has technically been in support electronic logging since 1999, so when you say it has been a long time coming, you can’t overstate how long it has been in pipeline,” said the ATA trade chief. “From our perspective, when technology is available and can be used to help modernize and improve compliance, then the industry should be supportive of those modifications and modernizations.”

Newton said most members of the influential trucking lobby, which includes most of the state’s publicly traded and privately held trucking carriers, have already taken steps to embrace e-logging technology.

“They’re eager for the rest of the industry to come along,” Newton said. “I think they’ve found that it makes their business (better). Certainly, it has forced them to strictly adhere to the hours of service, but that’s ideally what the industry should be doing along. We look forward to having them in all the commercial trucks, improving compliance, safety and having fewer crashes.”

What could be the final version of the ELD rules were first published by the Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in March 2014, and would require interstate commercial truck and bus companies to use so-called “e-logs” in their vehicles to improve compliance with the safety rules that govern the number of hours a driver can work. DOT officials said the proposed rule-making would significantly reduce the paperwork burden associated with hours-of-service record-keeping for interstate truck and bus drivers – the largest in the federal government following tax-related filings – and improve the quality of logbook data.

According to controversial industry analysis by federal transportation officials, the electronic logging regulations would reduce crashes by fatigued drivers and prevent approximately 20 fatalities and 434 injuries each year for an annual safety benefit of $394.8 million.

“By implementing Electronic Logging Devices, we will advance our mission to increase safety and prevent fatigued drivers from getting behind the wheel,” said Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Anne Ferro said in March 2014 after the final rules were released. “With broad support from safety advocates, carriers and members of Congress, we are committed to achieving this important step in the commercial bus and truck industries.”

In a research note earlier this week, Stephens Inc. trucking analyst Brad Delco said this is the last and “most significant step” on electronic logging and should serve as a positive catalyst for the transportation industry.

“In short, we believe as a result of this rule the trucking industry is one step further to equally enforcing the Hours-of-Service (HOS) regulations while improving safety on our nation’s highways,” Delco wrote. “Our sense is we could see a final rule on ELDs over the next couple of days.”

The ATA’s Newton called Delco’s analyst report “spot on.” She said the new rules may ultimately put pressure on shippers and receivers to accommodate tighter delivery schedules and more flexible in loading and offloading times, but that is what the industry expects to happen with the implementation of the new rules.

The Arkansas Trucking Association lobbyist, who has been engaged in talks on funding proposals to pay for state highways needs as a member Gov. Hutchinson’s Working Group on Highway Funding task force, also said the two-year deadline for implementation should give the industry time to comply with the federal rules.

“It does seem that we have been talking about this for a long time, and we are still two years away from implementation – but two years is what we expected and perceived that we were working with, so we are not disappointed at that timeline.”

Still, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association of Grain Valley, Mo., which has staunchly criticized the DOT’s electronic logging rules as having no safety benefit, is not looking forward to new regulations.

Norita Taylor, spokeswoman for Missouri-based trucking group that calls itself “the largest national trade association representing the interests of small-business trucking professionals and professional truck drivers,” expressed disappointment Friday in the Obama administration’s unfunded mandate.

“Our members, who are professional and small-business truckers, oppose mandated ELDs. Such devices cannot automatically record a driver’s compliance with hours of service regulations, they can only track location and movement of the truck itself,” said Taylor, whose trade group has 150,000 members nationwide. “Therefore, there is no safety aspect to an ELD, but rather just record keeping abilities. Drivers must still manually input duty status and so ELDs are no more reliable than paper logbooks for recording hours of service compliance.”

On the opposing side, the American Trucking Associations has supported the ELD mandate for commercial trucks, saying it will substantially improve safety on the nation’s highways.

“ATA supports the (DOT’s) efforts to mandate these devices in commercial vehicles as a way to improve safety and compliance in the trucking industry and to level the playing field with thousands for fleets that have already voluntarily moved to this technology,” said Bill Graves, president and CEO of the 50-state trucking federation.

Following the release of the proposed rules last summer, the American Trucking Associations called on the DOT to swiftly issue a mandate for commercial truck drivers to use electronic logging devices to monitor their compliance with hours-of-service requirements.