Significant new regulations were recently implemented for commercial truck drivers on our nation’s highways as reported in our January 2018 article entitled “The Cost Of Doing Business For Truckers In The Age Of Electronic Logs.” The rules mandate the use of electronic logging devices (“ELD”) to automatically record data, such as drivers’ hours of service (“HOS”), which had historically been tracked with hand-written log books. The rules will make it much easier to determine whether a driver involved in an accident exceeded the time he or she could lawfully remain behind the wheel.
ELD also reporting raises the prospect of verifiable records that can be used in court to support a claim of negligence under the law. ELD captures and electronically stores not just hours of operation but also location, engine use, and other data that can be easily obtained and valuable in litigation or other legal proceedings.
ELD proponents maintain the devices will not hamstring drivers, but make them more productive by removing their paperwork burden, tracking the number of hours they have been driving, and calculating their remaining hours. The electronic device industry actually reports an increase of 15 minutes of drive time per driver per day, and a study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FCSMA”) reports that automated electronic logs can reduce HOS violations by as much as 50% and decrease a motor carrier’s overall crash rate by 10%. The Center for Truck and Bus Safety of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute reports that drivers using electronic logs had an 11.7% lower total crash rate and a 5.1% lower preventable crash rate than trucks not equipped with electronic logs.
However, as compelling as these statistics are, accidents rates may not decline anytime soon. The FCSMA factored into its electronic log calculations significant costs for extra drivers and commercial motor vehicles needed to ensure compliance with HOS limits. The American Trucking Association estimates that the industry needs to hire and train at least 900,000 new drivers to replace an aging workforce. Higher numbers of inexperienced drivers on the roads create a concomitant increase in accident risk.
Moreover, ELD enforcement could inadvertently create other issues. Due to strict HOS enforcement, drivers might try to make up for lost miles by speeding, which may escalate frequency of accidents. This does not end with speeding towards a destination, but extends to finding parking lots during the dying stages of their HOS. Finding evasive parking lots in a new territory could be a struggle, and might make drivers speed up in these last desperate moments.
In the meantime, we will have to wait and see whether the ELD mandate will decrease a motor carrier’s overall crash rate or whether it will escalate the frequency of accidents on the road.