Logging a fundamental change
By Avery Vise
Right before leaving town for its Independence Day holiday, Congress enacted legislation that will, within several years, require all truck drivers who now must complete logs tracking their work hours to use electronic logging devices, or ELDs.
There remains some doubt about the survival of this requirement as on the same day Congress approved the ELD requirement it also passed a measure that would withhold funding to implement it. Ultimately, however, it’s likely the American Trucking Associations and others supporting mandatory ELDs will prevail in killing that measure and ELDs will be universal.
Assuming you have read this far, you might be wondering why you should care.
What possible relevance does a requirement to use electronic driver logs rather than paper logs have to a company that sells parts or services trucks? Trust me, there’s a connection. Read on.
Although the technology exists to audit paper logs — “cheat sheets” or “comic books” as they have been called through the years — after the fact, it’s a cumbersome process and one that doesn’t really discourage the driver or the carrier from fudging the rules. For example, a driver has only so many hours to complete his work for the day, but with paper logs, it’s easy — at least before an audit that may or may not come — to just pretend that any delay at the docks didn’t actually happen. Electronic logs won’t be so forgiving.
Although the pressures brought to bear by the government’s Compliance Safety Accountability program have encouraged many trucking companies to adopt ELDs, at most fleets drivers still use paper logs.
In a Randall-Reilly survey of fleet executives completed last month, 40 percent said they have no plans to use ELDs until they are mandated and another 22 percent plan to use ELDs but aren’t doing so yet.
New law may mean more trucks or greater utilization
For the most part, the larger carriers are the ones adopting ELDs already, and they aren’t happy about still having to compete with carriers who aren’t so constrained. That’s why ATA and many large carriers pushed Congress for mandatory ELDs.
In a recent Randall-Reilly MarketPulse survey, the executive of one carrier said that ELDs are “necessary to create an even playing field for companies that currently comply with the rules. When you have to compete with cheaters, it is hard to price a load properly.”
Similarly, some carriers are avoiding ELDs out of fear. “With the volatility in the driver market, we will not risk moving to ELDs for fear of an exodus of drivers to avoid using them,” said another carrier executive.
So what happens when the “flexibility” afforded by paper logs evaporates? The conventional wisdom has been that regulatory restrictions on drivers’ time — changes in the hours-of-service rules themselves or the systems used to monitor them — would reduce productivity and, therefore, create a demand for more trucks and drivers. And buying more trucks certainly is a good thing, right?
Based on the experience of carriers to date, this does seem to be happening to some extent. But the situation is more complex. Not only do many drivers like paperless logs once they are forced to use them, but many carriers actually are finding greater productivity.
“ELDs ensure that drivers use all their available hours in a productive way,” said one trucking executive in the MarketPulse survey. “They have forced drivers to quit messing around and get down the road.”
And ELDs give carriers some credibility with customers when they ask for faster loading and unloading at docks. In fact, perhaps the most surprising finding in the MarketPulse survey was that the majority, 53 percent, say that ELDs have not reduced drivers’ productivity.
So really there are two possible outcomes. In one, productivity drops, and the trucking industry must buy more trucks in order to haul the same amount of freight. In the other, carriers actually are more productive, which means more miles on trucks in a given period of time.
Either way, ELDs eventually will be pretty good news for you. ■
Avery Vise is executive director, trucking research and analysis for Randall-Reilly Business Media and Information.