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Are ELDs making the trucking industry safer?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has required full industry compliance with the ELD mandate since December 2019, so it’s reasonable to ask, is the device making the trucking industry safer?

While there is as yet no government-approved study providing definitive answers, Ronnie Brown III, who drives for Waterloo, Iowa-based Gray Transportation, says no.

“ELD and hours of service as they are set make drivers such as myself drive tired at times without the ability to stop for a nap without interfering with the hours of service for that day,” Brown said in his FMCSA petition for a five-year exemption from the rule.

The majority of the over 1,200 public comments on Brown’s petition — which come from independent owner-operators — agree with him. Many complain that the electronic device’s lack of flexibility in logging hours of service, versus the paper logs that the devices replaced, forces them to drive while tired and rest when they feel alert.

“The extreme overregulating control of this ruling creates vastly more unsafe conditions than it eliminates,” said Prabhasa Ishaya, an independent trucker from Shenandoah, Virginia, in his comments on Brown’s petition. “While intending to ensure absolute compliance with HOS regulations, this mandate ignores long-standing features of such regulatory provisional allowances that have become, in practice, impossible to use.”

Ishaya also asserts that the cumulative effect of not being able to round off drive times logged into an ELD “potentially cuts an additional half hour or so of legal drive time out of the day. The elimination of this aspect alone greatly increases the need to ‘race the clock’ when drive times are tight to begin with.”

Others commenting in support of Brown have cited statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showing that crashes involving large trucks have increased since the mandate was issued.

But the Truck Safety Coalition argues that FMCSA mandated the use of ELDs “in part because [they] bring about improvements in safety by making it difficult for drivers and carriers to falsify drivers’ duty status, which in turn deters violations of the [hours-of-service] rules,” the group noted in its comments on Brown’s petition.

The coalition further contended that the devices are “a crucial component” of efforts to ensure trucks are safely operating since they are used in on-site and off-site motor carrier inspections. It also cited recent FMCSA reports revealing that the two most common critical violations in carrier audits are not using the appropriate method to record hours of service and false reports of duty status records.

The industry will soon accumulate even more data on how well ELDs are working. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law last year required the U.S. Department of Transportation to report on the cost and effectiveness of the devices, along with efforts made to protect personal information obtained from them.

In addition, FMCSA last week began soliciting the public on ways to improve the current regulations governing the use of ELDs and address concerns about technical specifications that  have been raised by the industry.

The 400-plus comments received in just the first week, however, might be summarized by one anonymous submission: “For the love of God, please leave us alone.”

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.