Outside of nation’s cosmopolitan centers are thousands of miles of American farmland, road, nature, and small communities, ranging from even the outskirts of the Washington, D.C. area to the Heartland itself.
Every day, thousands of trucks, trains, ships, and planes traverse our nation transporting food, industrial materials consumer goods, and more, to our stores and then our homes.
However recently there has been an Obama-era transportation rule that seems to be causing a lot of disruption, and even injuries and deaths, in this process.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in 2015 implemented a rule which requires most truck drivers in the United States to use an Electronic Logging Device (ELD), which require truck drivers to adhere to specific 14-hour cycle requirements in the loading, driving, and unloading process.
The origin behind the rule was in the desire to prevent truck drivers from being made to drive long hours, thereby reducing fatigue and thus potentially accidents or worker abuse. However it was the implementation of that sentiment, in the form of an amendment to the 2012 “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act,” that faced little discussion that was misplaced.
As a result, the ELD’s rigid cycle requirement results in truck drivers having to stick to arbitrary scheduling that often does not mesh with the realities of their actual driving. If they are stuck in traffic, the clock keeps running. Often in order to meet their deadlines truck drivers will then rush to their destination, potentially creating accidents. This cumulative time tracking, rather than consecutive or mileage based, thereby distorts trucker activity.
The kinds of time counted also create problems, as loading and unloading times are potentially included as part of the 14-hour cycle, as well as other activities such sleeping, rest breaks, and meals. Although the statute’s language does not explicitly state such, but its vagueness has suddenly created great uncertainty for truckers and their businesses across the nation.
With truckers carrying perishable items, such as the billions of tons of produce each year, the delays caused by the ELD rule’s guidelines also result in a wide array of food potentially going bad and being wasted as well.
Trucking is an essential part of our national circulatory system. In 2015 alone trucks carried over 70% of all freight tonnage in the United States, or about 10.5 billion tons. Trucking freight revenues account for over $738.9 billion in business activity due to the wide array of activities involved and affected.
These roughly 33.8 million trucks registered for business use travel over 450 billion miles each year across our country, employ 3.5 million truck drivers, and support another 4 million or jobs.
The ELD requirement is strict, in full effect since April 1st, as carriers can and already are being put out of business for violations and even honest mistakes in the tracking can result in severe punishments from regulators. The potential costs of noncompliance, combined with the costs of equipment, training, and maintenance, are also particularly harsh for small trucking businesses.
As the ELD devices even reportedly have a variety of problems of their own ranging from not working correctly to even catching on fire, it is clear that something is amiss in the roughly two month since strict enforcement has begun.
What happens in the trucking industry seems far off the eyes of most Americans beyond their proliferation on our highways and when we pass an unloading yard. However trucking is one of the fundamental ways our nation’s entire economy and way of life functions and when it faces constriction our entire country hurts from it.
The ELD rule appears to be creating market distortions that hurt trucking businesses significantly, ranging from large companies to small owners in particular, and resulting in carrier capacity drops that slow our nation’s core economic activity.
Furthermore, the ELD rule appears to be resulting in potentially dangerous activities on the highways that may contribute to a higher accident toll, even if it has been in effect too short of a time to do studies.
Whether the solution comes from a clarification or revision in the rules by the FMCSA itself or another action by Congress remains uncertain, but it is clear that something has to be done to fix this well-intentioned but shoddily implemented regulation.