Can A Motor Carrier Operator Expect Drivers To Take HOS Compliance To Heart?

posted in Compliance

Can A Motor Carrier Operator Expect Drivers To Take HOS Compliance To Heart?

Let’s face it.  The trucking world is on the verge of one of the biggest changes it has seen since the imposition of logbooks and work hour limitations back in 1938.  With the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate coming at the end of 2017, motor carrier operators will no longer be able to delegate sole responsibility to their drivers for “running legal”.  The ELDs will always tell the truth.  As motor carrier operators, we will no longer be able to be, as the French say, “laissez faire” managers of our drivers.

lesā ˈfer/

noun: laissez-faire

  1. a policy or attitude of letting things take their own course, without interfering.

synonyms: noninterventionist, non-interventional, non interfering

Don’t get me wrong, as a motor carrier operator,  I’ve always put the safety of the public and our drivers first, and hate government intrusion and regulation as much as anyone else.  With the start of each newly hired driver, I’d lecture them that I didn’t care if they were in the first hour of their first day after a reset, but if they didn’t feel that they could drive safely, I expected them to call in and shut it down, and we would inform customers of the necessary delays.

I also told our new drivers that I expected them to run a compliant log book, and to tell us if/when they were running out of hours so we could build a reset in prior to their next dispatches.  And when they did get put out of service for a logbook violation, I would reprimand them.  I think many instead heard us say was “If you’re going to cheat, make sure you do it in a way that you don’t get caught”.

The human enterprise has always been about maximizing self interest.  If you’re a driver that’s paid on incentive, you are going to do everything you can to boost personal income, while you also strive to maximize your time off at home between trips.  Self-interest also dictates that you be ever mindful of the fines and PSP points you might get, and reprimands from your employer if your exceed HOS regulations.

The net result: many incentivized drivers and owner/operators have naturally sought ways to bend the rules, and motor carrier managers have leaned toward a policy of “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil…but just don’t get caught!”

Lest anyone continue to be naïve, here are just a few of the common tricks I hear that veteran drivers have used to enlarge their available hours of service:

  • Run two sets of log books, rewriting pages as you’re able to put miles behind you without detectable documentation (e.g., fuel and toll receipts, ports of entry) that could fix you at a place at a given time in the eyes of a law enforcement official.
  • Underreport terminal loading/wait times and local pickup/delivery times.  For example, instead of logging 6 driving/on duty hours making multiple local stops while weaving through local traffic congestion, just log the plausible 2 hours that it might take to make the same stops.  You can now add 4 hours to your available driving time and still be “legal”.
  • Refuel only at the end or beginning of the day.  This helps to obscure exactly where you were relative to your maximum 14 hour work day, especially if you are also re-writing pages of your log book while your log book date/location is “catching up” with your actual location using calculations based on running at 60 mph from your last documented location. The goal of this tactic is to be able to get home several hours before your logbook shows you got home, adding precious hours to your reset time to be with family and friends.
  • For owner/operators, use COD funds received from customers to pay cash for fuel to eliminate bothersome date/time/location history documentation on your fuel purchase account records.  Paying cash eliminates the possibility that a DOT auditor will be able to obtain fuel purchase history from a vendor and tag you with a fine for systematic logbook falsification that will cost you and average of over $9,000.
  • The most elaborate trick I’ve heard about involves conspiring with a fictitious “first leg relay driver”.  During a logbook check, you claim to have just jumped into the seat earlier that day with a freshly re-set logbook in place of another driver who had driven the truck from the more distant location shown on your bills of lading.   The DOT officer asks to for the phone number of the other driver to confirm the hand off time and location, and because your conspiring with him, it checks out.

Notice that most of these tricks will never lead to the submission of a non-compliant logbook to the motor carrier.  Until…enter the world of mandatory ELDs.

Whether we like it or not, these tricks and others, will soon go the way of stage coaches and train robberies, as most trucks will soon be required to have tamper-proof tell-all GPS-enabled digital recordkeeping technology on board.   Cheating will be impossible, but then so will the issue of drivers shorting themselves on available hours because they didn’t properly account for total running work hours.  Prudent drivers and fleet managers will take advantage of the time between now and the December 2017 mandate to compare ELD reporting against conventional paper logs before they are required to share their ELD data with enforcement authorities.  For fleet owners like me who insist on maintaining a “laisse fare approach” to compliance until the last minute, these little “digital tattle tales” are likely to generate more shut downs, fines, and audits than we had thought possible.

On a more positive note, the new ELD regulations will likely lead to higher freight rates and a fuller absorption of available capacity due to an acceleration of drivers leaving our profession, and others deciding that higher levels of enforcement activity and accountability are not for them.  According to a 2015 ATA report titled, “Truck Driver Shortage Analysis 2015”, motor carriers are already struggling to find quality replacement drivers to fill the seats of an average of 40,000 drivers now retiring each year.  Combining this with continued growth in demand, the estimated shortage at the end of 2015 of 48,000 drivers is expected to mushroom to almost 175,000 by 2024.  We think that ELDs will cause more drivers to leave the industry, and reduce industry capacity by restricting the work hours of drivers in the habit of bending HOS rules.  The drivers who survive the adoption of ELDs will most certainly be in a position to thrive financially!   The time to prepare for this game changing new regulation is now!

Stay tuned to my blog for future articles on the experience of recent adopters of ELD technology, and other insights to the changing safety climate of our industry.