Some U.S. truckers ask Trump to tap brakes on electronic logs

FILE PHOTO: A transport truck hauls new Toyota trucks into the United States from Mexico
FILE PHOTO: A transport truck carries new Toyota trucks through an inspection station after clearing U.S. customs from Mexico at the border in Otay Mesa near San Diego, California, U.S. on April 28, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo

December 6, 2017

By Ian Simpson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Many independent U.S. truckers are pushing President Donald Trump to back his anti-regulatory rhetoric by delaying an Obama-era rule requiring electronic monitors in trucks, a measure some drivers fear could put them out of business due to extra costs.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and supporters of the rule, set to take effect on Dec. 18, say it will save lives and make the nearly $700 billion trucking industry more efficient. Opponents contend the technology is unreliable and the $1.8 billion price tag is excessive.

Small operators – many of them Trump backers – view the Republican president’s response to requests for a delay as a test of his avowed support for small business.

“One of the things we voted for, I voted for, was a change in the attitude in D.C.,” said Dick Pingel, a 64-year-old Trump supporter and independent trucker from Plover, Wisconsin. “I guess if he doesn’t do anything about it, government’s not listening to the small guy again.”

The White House directed questions about the rule to the Transportation Department.

A representative for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a division of the Transportation Department, said by email that the rule would be implemented as scheduled.

Opponents are still trying to persuade the president to take action.

Republican U.S. Representative Brian Babin, a former truck driver, wrote Trump last month asking that the rule replacing pen-and-paper logs of drivers’ hours with monitors synchronized with engines be delayed at least three months.

Nearly 30 business groups backed Babin’s letter, which said the rule’s launch at the height of the holiday season could snarl Christmas deliveries.

Babin said by phone that he had spoken with Trump generally about helping small and mid-sized truckers when the president visited lawmakers last month to discuss tax legislation.

“He assured me that he will,” said Babin, who has been unsuccessful in securing a delay through legislation.

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr. sent a letter to FMCSA last week seeking a postponement. The letter is being reviewed, the agency said.

“FMCSA has listened to important feedback from many stakeholder groups,” said the representative, who asked not to be named, adding that the agency’s primary focus was implementing the rule “in a manner that does not impede the flow of commerce and maintains and improves safety for operators and the public.”

The regulation set into motion under Democratic President Barack Obama in 2015 requires most interstate truck and bus operators to switch to the electronic monitors.

FMCSA says the shift affecting about 3.4 million truckers will keep fatigued drivers off the road and save $3 billion by eliminating paperwork and reducing crashes.

An industry survey in 2016 of mostly small operators found that 84 percent lacked the monitors.

The industry’s largest trucking companies such as Schneider National Inc and Covenant Transportation Group Inc have used electronic logs for years and have been fierce proponents of the rule, arguing that it boosts driver safety. Any effort to roll back the rule would face strong opposition from the biggest U.S. truckers.

Paper logs allow transport companies facing razor-thin margins to fudge their books and boost drivers’ hours on the road, those backing the change say.

“It really does level the playing field for everybody, small, medium and large,” said Bill Sullivan, executive vice president for advocacy at the American Trucking Associations trade group.

A U.S. appeals court rejected a legal challenge to the rule in 2016 by the 160,000-strong Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

The association and other critics of the regulation say the technology lacks standards and will cost operators up to $3,832 the first year it is installed.

(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)

  • All American

    Great points! So I felt compelled to drill down☺️
    In 2015 10,265 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes.
    In 2015 745 Truck drivers were killed on the job it did not break out asleep at the wheel.

  • randrat

    Missing from the arguments/comments I’ve read is the reality the OTRs and IOs face. They haven’t terminals – or trucks stops/rest areas – carefully located to fit within the “duty hours cycles” monitored by the electronics. IN my little corner of NJ there’s only a few, but destinations are sixty miles further on in Port Newark, NYC, etc. Drivers have to not merely drive to the named terminal – regardless of traffic/construction delays – then unload; trip to a outbound load, load and get back to one of those “Truck Stops ” all within their duty cycle. My part of NJ – on I-78 – has two small ones located within five miles of one another some sixty miles from the loading docks.

  • Sagev Sal

    Schneider, Covenant, JB Hunt, nor any of the other major OTR carriers are unionized. Union drivers make up a very small portion of the industry. This is about “big brother”.

    • All American

      More of Barry and his control freak regulations⬇️
      TG he is gone …

  • zoey

    Ithought these monitors tracked the drivers daily wearabouts and how much time it is taking the driver to make his daily deliveries when its a private guy and his own boss He tracks Hiself ( wht does He need a tracking device )

  • No Mas

    Anything Obama did was diminish American incentive… As I don’t know about the costs of Electronic logging device, it seems to me a less expensive option could be used by cell phone to track time on and time off…

  • Brad

    If the companies would use the system they would find out the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) isn’t all that difficult to work with. As a driver I don’t like government meddling into our lives but this tool actually makes it easier to track activities. However, if I was to run false logs then this system would work against me as it should. This issue has been addressed in the courts and courts sided with new regulations.

    • Brad

      One other point, no one will be placed out of serve until April 2018. There are exceptions in place to take care of short hauls and the smaller operations. Also, keep in mind it is a federal requirement drivers must be able to read and speak English, that needs to be enforced!!!

      • scott

        Do you really think they’ll enforce the requirement? I don’t..

    • zoey

      YES but a private owned contractor does not need to track Hiself on how fast he makes deliveries

  • IceColdLogic

    $3,832 for an electronic monitor? That’s outrageous.

    • RMCS Ret.

      Does sound like a bit much, shouldn’t be that difficult to implement. Most newer vehicles already have crude engine hour monitors. A little extra programming of the on board computer should do the trick. I don’t see 3.8K, but I’ve been wrong before. I like the rule, because the current system is not just able to be abused, it is being abused. This thing has been in the mill for a couple years, so truckers could have budgeted for it. Admit $2K a year to budget it is a good slice off the bottom line, but the 3.8K would be easier to swallow a little at a time. Should be able to write if off as a business expense also.

      • IceColdLogic

        GPS trackers are $40 for the unit and $25/month. Register them to a truck, log to a government registry, done. Time moving = operational time (easy to calculate from the date). What more do you need?