The days of truck drivers logging their miles on paper are over, as a full roll out of electronic devices to record travel distances for jobs was fully implemented this spring.
Representatives of a couple Springfield-area trucking companies, Prime Inc. and TransLand Inc., say the electronic logging device technology is not only good for their companies but also for the whole industry.
“We think it builds on safety. At least it builds on safety practices,” said Mark Walker, CEO of Strafford-based TransLand.
The ELDs target a longstanding issue in the trucking industry. For years, drivers were known to cheat the paper system by logging less time than they actually spent on the roads. As the old adage goes, time is money.
The U.S. Department of Transportation restricts truck drivers to 11 hours on the road after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
“Every carrier that uses America’s highways has to operate with the same criteria. So, it’s fair,” he said. “Drivers aren’t allowed to drive beyond what is considered safe.”
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says ELDs are intended to help create a safer work environment, and make it easier and faster to accurately track, manage and share records of duty status. An ELD synchronizes with a vehicle engine to record driving time for more accurate hours of service logs.
According to the American Trucking Associations, ELDs were first proposed in 2007 and finalized in 2010. Industry adoption of the technology, mandated in part as the result of bipartisan congressional action in the 2012 highway bill – commonly referred to as MAP-21 – began in December 2017. The soft roll out ended April 1, with drivers since facing citations for operating without an ELD.
Officials at TransLand and Prime say their firms were adopters way ahead of the mandate.
Jim Guthrie, director of recruiting at Prime Inc., said the Springfield-based trucking firm started implementing the electronic logs in 2009 and completed the process by 2011. TransLand started the implementation in 2010 and largely finished the process a year later. However, he said the company still has a few automatic on-board recording devices that are being phased out. Those devices were grandfathered in under the mandate, but they must be replaced by ELDs no later than Dec. 16, 2019.
The changes come with a cost. Walker said TransLand paid about $1,500 per unit at the time – representing an investment of $225,000 to convert most of its 200-truck fleet.
He said ELD units now cost around $750 apiece, and there’s a monthly service fee of $55-$65.
Guthrie said ELDs have improved the quality of life for drivers, as there’s been pressure in the past from shippers and manufacturers to drive down the price. Truckers would drive 600-700 miles a day and not be compliant on their paper logs, sometimes simply to meet the demands of the shippers.
With the electronic logs, that no longer happens, as drivers accurately meet their hours of service.
However, the ELD mandate came at a time when load capacity is really tight industrywide – an issue Guthrie said has been in play for more than a year.
“We’ve seen it with our shippers,” he said. “They’re really struggling to find trucks. Some of that is because of increased regulations when it comes to electronic logging.
“That’s been a big impact on the trucking industry,” he continued, noting any price increases in stores is often tied to the higher cost to transport goods. “There’s an unprecedented demand right now.”
The industry isn’t helped by the ongoing driver shortage, both Walker and Guthrie said. This past summer, ATA noted there would be a national shortage of more than 60,000 for-hire, over-the-road drivers by year’s end. The shortage could reach 175,000 by 2026, if national economic growth continues and the trucking industry stays stagnant.
“Trucking is very cyclical and relative to the economy overall, so when the economy goes strong, we tend to see an upswing,” Guthrie said. “But this is more pronounced partly because of the ELD mandate, but also because of the driver shortage.”
Walker said the mandate took a while for shippers and receivers to get a sense of what additional effectiveness they needed to build in their systems.
“A shipper could no longer expect a carrier such as us to haul their freight within a timeframe that didn’t comply with hours of service,” he said, adding that’s been a huge value because improved awareness in the shipping community means less wait time for drivers loading and unloading shipments. “When you’re burning somebody’s clock up, you’re burning money.”
Potential revisions for hours of service regulations currently are being studied by the motor carrier group, said Tom Crawford, president and CEO of the Missouri Trucking Association. He’s hopeful for some “common sense” solutions to allow drivers to decide what makes sense to their travel plans and how to deliver products safely.
Revisions under consideration include:
• Expanding the current 100 air-mile “short-haul” exemption from 12 hours on duty to 14 hours on duty, in order to be consistent with the rules for long-haul truck drivers;
• Extending the current 14-hour on-duty limitation by up to two hours when the driver encounters adverse driving conditions;
• Eliminating the current mandatory 30-minute break for drivers after eight hours of continuous driving; and
• Reinstating the option for splitting up the required 10-hour off-duty rest break for drivers who operate trucks equipped with a sleeper-berth compartment.
Crawford said the revisions likely would be studied by the motor carrier administration for the remainder of the year and maybe into next year before any decisions are made. But he said, like ELDs, the proposed revisions have safety in mind for drivers and the public with whom they share the road.
“We’re in favor of anything that makes sense from a safety perspective,” Prime’s Guthrie said.
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