After the agency reviews the comments and publishes a final rule, perhaps later this year, carriers will have two years to comply.

After the agency reviews the comments and publishes a final rule, perhaps later this year, carriers will have two years to comply.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposed electronic log mandate, unveiled Thursday, takes on a broad range of issues that have dogged the 15-year effort to draft a rule.

At the core of the 256-page proposal is the requirement that drivers who fill out paper logs must eventually switch to electronic logging devices, or ELDs.

It also covers technical standards for the devices and the supporting documents that regulators need to confirm compliance. And it sets requirements to ensure that electronic logs are not used to harass drivers.

Once the proposal is published in the Federal Register, carriers, drivers and anyone else will have two months to submit comments. After the agency reviews the comments and publishes a final rule, perhaps later this year, carriers will have two years to comply.

The technical details

The technical specifications spell out how the devices should work.

The basic requirement is that the device record specific information – date, time, location, engine hours, mileage and driver, vehicle and carrier identification – and make it available to inspectors.

The driver will be identified by his license number and the state where his license is issued.

The device has to be synchronized with the engine, to record on/off status, the truck’s motion, mileage and engine hours.

The device will have to automatically record a driver’s change of duty and hourly status while the truck is moving. It also must track engine on/off, and the beginning and end of personal use or yard moves.

The agency is proposing that the devices use automatic positioning services, including either satellite-based Global Positioning Systems or land-based systems, or both.

The agency will not require the devices to print out the log, but it is offering that as an option. It says the device will have to produce a graph grid of a driver’s daily duty status, either on a digital display unit or on a printout. This is the first time the agency has proposed using a printer, and it’s looking for comments on the costs and benefits of that approach.

Many carriers now have onboard information systems that warn the driver when he’s approaching his hourly limits, but the agency is not requiring that capability in its proposal.

The primary communications method will be wireless web services, Bluetooth 2.1 or email. The backup will be wired USB 2.0 or scannable Quick Response code.

To guard against tampering, the device must not allow changes in original information about the driver’s records or in the source data streams that provide the information. It also must be able to check the integrity of the information.

A Schneider driver hands an enforcement officer his Omnitracs unit to check his electronic logs. The proposed rule would make paper printouts an option.

A Schneider driver hands an enforcement officer his Omnitracs unit to check his electronic logs. The proposed rule would make paper printouts an option.

Also, the device must be able to monitor and record compliance for malfunctions and inconsistencies.

Beyond the tech specs

The agency is proposing that the devices be certified by the manufacturer, and that certified devices be registered on the FMCSA website to make it easier for carriers to shop.

The agency projects net annual benefits of about $454 million, based on an average annual cost of about $495 per truck for the device and services. It based its calculations on Qualcomm’s MCP 50 system, describing it as an appropriate example of the current state-of-the-art device, although it looked at other products as well.

Among the benefits are reduced paperwork costs for carriers, as well as 1,425 fewer truck crashes and 20 fewer fatalities a year, the agency said.

The supporting documents portion of the proposal eliminates the requirement that carriers keep paper that verifies driving time, since the electronic log takes care of that.

It retains the requirement that carriers keep a variety of documents, ranging from bills of lading, dispatch records, expense receipts or payroll records.

To protect drivers from harassment, the agency is proposing that when the driver has indicated he’s in the sleeper berth the device is either muted or turned down so the carrier can’t interrupt his rest. Also, the driver would have to approve any changes the carrier makes in the driver’s data.

The agency plans to propose another rule to protect drivers from coercion by carriers, shippers, receivers or transportation intermediaries. This rule will include ways for drivers to report coercion as well as penalties for violators.

Industry Reaction

Many trucking companies support electronic logging, and early reaction from American Trucking Associations was generally positive.

“ATA supports FMCSA’s efforts to mandate these devices in commercial vehicles as a way to improve safety and compliance in the trucking industry and to level the playing field with thousands for fleets that have already voluntarily moved to this technology,” said President and CEO Bill Graves in a statement.

The group’s executive vice president, Dave Osiecki, said he’s particularly pleased that the agency is proposing to allow paper printouts of logs, but not requiring their use.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which has long opposed ELDs, is taking a more cautious stance.

“The agency must address the serious safety issue of how (ELDs) are used to harass and coerce truck drivers into continuing to drive regardless of driving conditions,” said spokesperson Norita Taylor in a statement.

The group also is worried about how some of the technical details and whether or not ELDs will improve safety, Taylor said.

“This is the first stage in the regulatory process for the agency’s latest attempt to craft a rule on this topic, and OOIDA and small business truckers will certainly be weighing in and providing comments,” she said.

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