I acquired a federal motor carrier 10 years ago, and have experienced more than my fair share of calamity and catastrophe. We’ve dealt with trucks breaking down on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere, and in the middle of the night. We’ve also experienced equipment losses due to collisions, fires, and even flash floods. Through the years, we’ve also had our share of DOT driver out-of-service orders and “fix it tickets”, and angry calls from customers because their freight is delivering a day or two later than promised. And we’ve had to grapple with all of the human tragedies in life, failing marriages, troubled children, substance abuse issues, even the deaths of drivers and their loved ones while they were away on dispatch. As we’ve been more willing to leave trucks parked until we could find quality drivers, and selected candidates with good driving records and the maturity to understand the need to honor the law, the business has become much easier to manage.
There is no business that demands the daily tightrope walk required in trucking. Our service is based on finite capacity with virtually unlimited demand. Capacity and demand are constantly changing, and if we want to do well by our customers, we have to be prepared to change quickly with it.
In my experience, the success of the safety-focused enterprise begins and ends with a very special kind of driver who values safety and incident prevention above the almighty short-term dollar and the demands of shippers. Many of the issues we experienced were a result of decisions drivers made for the benefit of short-term financial gain, that carried long-term consequences We suspect, but will never know for sure, that the quality of many of these moment-by-moment decisions made by each driver suffered under the cumulative effects of fatigue and inattentiveness caused by running back-to-back 1,000 mile days and shorting their hours of sleep. We’ve all short-cutted our daily pre-trip inspections, kept going while signs of a serious truck failure were looming, continued to drive while we are fighting off sleep, and either falsified logbooks or maintained dual log books to mask the hours we need to cover to make our deliveries on-time, and make it home in time for planned events with family and friends.
Professional drivers understand that their CDL is not a God-given entitlement, but a license that’s granted as a privilege conditioned on a willingness to obey laws that govern the use of our public roadways, including operating equipment that meets all DOT safety standards.
We also know that a good driver is worthy of a good paycheck (or settlement check if they own their own rigs) and regular time off at home with friends and family. In some specialty hauling categories, this can equate to a six-figure job. Drivers who know how to balance the demands of delivery schedules, maintain their trucks to meet DOT requirements, can adapt to changing weather and traffic situations, all the while operating in compliance with thousands of pages of federal and state regulations, are truly super men & women worth all and more than they make.
Particularly for drivers and fleet operators who’s incomes are based miles driven or freight billings, the upcoming ELD mandate is seen as a threat to personal earnings and time off at home. Some are asking at a time when more drivers are retiring than are entering the trucking profession, is this going to be “the straw that breaks the camel’s back?” While I wasn’t there nearly 80 years ago, I’m sure reactions were similar back in 1938 when the US Interstate Commerce Commission enacted regulations to limit commercial driver work hours and require use of paper logbooks. Yet, as trucking adapted back then, so shall we now.
ELDs certainly have the potential to diminish the productivity for those who routinely work more than 14 hours/day or 70 hours/week. Still, most working people know that these kinds of hours push the limits on what most people can do without making errors, especially when a few seconds of delayed reaction time by a fatigued driver can make a difference between a near-miss and a fatality statistic. It is a fact that accidents are rarely caused by commercial drivers. A 2013 report issued by the ATA indicated that 80% of all truck/car accidents where caused by the driver of the car. Still, the shear energy of an 80,000 lb. rig running at 60 mph down the road can contribute to disastrous consequences in a collision with one or more 4,000 lb. passenger vehicles. With an average commercial driver logging more than 100,000 miles/year, we have to be more skilled and mentally sharp than the rest of the driving public. I think this is similar to our expectation that we wouldn’t want to share the operating room with a surgeon who’s already logged 12 hours in surgery that day!
When forming an opinion about whether to embrace ELD technology or wish it would go away, drivers and motor carrier operators need to consider the following factors:
- The cost of DOT roadside hours-of-service shut downs. An unscheduled forced 10 hour reset at an average lost revenue cost of $100/hour is $1,000.
- Fines. For example, the average logbook falsification fine is over $9,000.
- The cost of preventable accidents. In addition to collision insurance deductibles, insurance premium hikes can amount to over $1,000 per truck/year, and lost driver/equipment time during repairs can easily add up to several thousand dollars per incident.
- The loss of customer goodwill due to damaged loads or extreme delays due to accidents.
- The fine and business interruption potential of a DOT company audit drawn by a rash of hours-of-service violations made possible by unforgiving and unfudgable digital ELD records.
- Enforcement action is going to get worse. Recent accident investigations conducted by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has judged Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) carrier enforcement practices as poor in taking drivers off the road and putting carriers out of business. In order to preserve their government jobs and benefits, administrators at the FMCSA will most definitely be using ELD records to cull the roadways of non-compliant carriers.
In my opinion, smart carrier operators and drivers will start testing ELD technology before it becomes mandatory at the end of 2017. Drivers can employ an ELD without providing access to inspectors so long as they continue to provide a paper log. This means a driver can start gauging and addressing any gaps between what they report on their paper logs and digitally-recorded reality without the fear of drawing an unwanted HOS violation. I think the end result won’t be as bad as many drivers think, and necessary HOS operating changes will be relatively modest for most.
The public and the US Congress have spoken louder than independent carriers, trucking associations, and drivers who’ve fought against an ELD mandate. It’s time for the discussion to shift from how to resist them, to what are the best practices for how to use them, while minimizing the impact on earnings, productivity, home time, and exposure to non-compliance penalties. The flood of data these little electronic demons will provide can either be a lifeline to save us or a noose around our necks to hang us when it comes to being accountable to motor carrier regulations. Future blogs we write will report on best practices we gather from early adopters of this new technology.