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.