UPDATED -- Comments on the proposed Electronic Logging Device mandate cover the full spectrum of reactions, from outrage and disdain at Big Brother government to applause for a sensible and long-overdue safety rule.

Most of the comments – 1,746 and counting – are from individuals who do not like what the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is planning to do.

The core of the ELD proposal is the requirement that drivers who fill out paper logs must eventually switch to electronic logs. The proposal 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.

The individual comments typically focus on the regulatory burden the agency is proposing.

James Bennett said he is a 30-year owner-operator with no accidents and is not sure he’ll stay in the business if he has to use an ELD.

“I do not need an ELD,” he said. “It does nothing for me and my operations or my bottom line.”

A number of owner-operators said that ELDs have the effect of pushing drivers harder during their duty time.

“I will have no choice but to drive in traffic, adverse weather conditions, and/or while fatigued because I can’t take a nap … because the clock is tick, tick, ticking away,” said Ryan Allison.

On the other hand, some individuals support the rule.

Charles Bolin said he thinks ELDs should be required on every truck.

“I would compare an E-log rule to a rule requiring employers to use electronic time clocks rather than handwritten time cards to prevent payroll fraud,” he said. “It makes good business sense and it keeps local companies honest about whether their drivers really qualify for the local driver logbook exemption.”

Henry Albert put it this way: “Quite simply, electronic log books bring accountability and compliance to the trucking industry.”

The major industry interest groups filed extensive comments addressing the details of the proposal.

ATA Supports Mandate

American Trucking Associations said it supports the ELD mandate.

“ATA is confident that such devices will improve compliance with the hours of service regulations,” the association said. The association noted that FMCSA data showed strong correlation between compliance with the 2010 hours of service rules and lower crash rates.

ATA wants the agency to move quickly, but not so quickly that it opens the rule to legal challenges. “The agency must conduct research and analysis to ensure that a final rule is judicious and defensible.”

The association also wants the agency to look for ways to promote voluntary adoption.

It pointed out that it’s likely to take three years to put the mandate into effect – a year to finish the rule and two years’ grace before ELDs are required for those who use paper logs. And regulatory delays or litigation could push that out even further.

Meanwhile, carriers that already have ELDs or that move quickly to install them will be at a competitive disadvantage against carriers using paper logs, ATA said. Paper logs, for instance, record time in 15-minute increments, while ELDs are precise to the minute.

“These inequities ultimately penalize early adopters and will discourage other fleets from installing ELDs before the final deadline to do so, especially under the new, more restrictive hours of service rules,” ATA said.

The agency could encourage voluntary adoption by extending the “grandfather” period for automatic recording devices that meet existing requirements, ATA said.

It also could give current ELD users a break by reducing the violation weight assigned to minor log violations in the CSA safety enforcement system. Or, give carriers additional credit for each inspection in the Safety Measurement System’s hours of service category.

Another incentive could be to provide a grace period for enforcement of the new rest break requirement, since compliance is more stringently enforced if the driver uses an ELD.

ATA suggested a number of ways to improve the proposal.

It said that the grandfather period for existing devices needs to be longer. The current schedule penalizes early adapters and will chill voluntary adoption.

Also, while the proposed location standards are acceptable for enforcement, carriers must be allowed to be more precise for security, safety and efficiency.

And the agency should look for a better way to identify drivers. The proposal calls for use of the commercial driver license as an identifier, which is an improvement over the earlier approach of using carrier-assigned driver ID numbers, but the agency should look for even better ways to do it, ATA said.

ATA disagrees with the idea of requiring carriers to get driver approval before editing ELD data. It said carriers should be able to make changes on their own when, say, correcting errors that don’t affect driving or on-duty time rules.

ATA also said the supporting documents requirements are excessive and unnecessary: ELDs will ensure compliance and eliminate the need for the supporting documents that police use to confirm compliance.

And ATA said the agency should look for ways to minimize the impact of the rule on companies that rent and lease equipment.

Enforcement Concerns

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, which represents the police who enforce the rule, is concerned about the schedule for compliance.

The agency proposed a four-year plan that will complicate enforcement, CVSA said.

During the first two years, there will be three ways to keep track of hours: on paper, with grandfathered automatic onboard recording devices and with ELDs. Carriers that use paper logs will have to plug in ELDs at the end of two years, but those that use AOBRDs or pre-rule ELDs will have another two years to bring their systems into compliance with the mandate.

CVSA is proposing that there be a three-year grace period for all carriers.

“In this scenario, any existing electronic devices for recording driver RODS would no longer be permitted after the third year,” CVSA said. That would give suppliers time to meet the demand, carriers to budget the change and enforcement agencies to train their staff.

CVSA also wants the agency to be sure it accounts for what it will cost enforcement agencies to implement the rule. It suggested that the agency include police equipment and training in its regulatory impact analysis.

CVSA is at odds with ATA on the question of supporting documents. It agreed with the agency’s proposal but added that drivers should be required to keep the documents for seven days.

Another issue for police is drivers who use their truck as a personal conveyance. The meaning of “personal conveyance” is not clear, CVSA said.

It proposed a definition that says the driver may use his truck for personal transportation for a “short distance” -- to and from the nearest lodging or restaurant, or between his home and his normal terminal, but no more than 25 miles or 30 minutes.

CVSA said it supports ELD certification by the manufacturer, based on a standard set of compliance procedures.

Also, the devices should be able to import and export data from other makes. And CVSA wants the agency to make sure that the states have the technology and communications systems to access ELD data at roadside inspections – before the mandate takes effect.

OOIDA Comments

Comments by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association read like a prelude to a lawsuit. The group challenged the legal, constitutional and technical foundations of the proposal.

It said the proposal fails to meet the legal requirement that ELDs automatically and accurately record driver hours of service.

Under the proposed rule, drivers will manually enter a change in duty status, which is neither automatic nor necessarily accurate, the group said.

“FMCSA embarks on this ill-advised program without any evidence that currently available ELDs, which require the manual input of changes in duty status, will provide the slightest improvement over paper logbooks which also depend upon manual input of such information,” OOIDA said.

Further, OOIDA said, the agency ignores the constitutional question of mandating a device to monitor driver conduct without a warrant. The agency should have solicited comments on this issue in its proposal.

“Without providing for the due process rights of truck drivers, the proposed rule’s imposition of electronic monitoring is an unconstitutional deprivation of a driver’s freedom of movement.”

OOIDA also contended that the agency’s cost-benefit analysis is deficient. It said the analysis does not address the question of who should bear the cost of ELDs, and it contains no credible data on the relationship between ELDs and hours-of-service compliance.

Advocates Approve

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety endorsed the proposal, saying it is long overdue, but had concerns about some of the details.

One issue is that the proposal permits portable ELDs that drivers could manipulate to skirt the hours of service rules, Advocates said.

The group wants the agency to require ELD systems to have data storage that is hard-wired to the engine, so that the truck’s operation is logged whether or not the portable portion of the system is activated.

Advocates also cautioned against allowing log data to be transmitted through the carrier or an intermediary, rather than stored in the ELD.

“Each individual with the capability to modify a record represents an additional opportunity for the data to be altered or falsified,” the group said.

In addition, the proposal should include stiff penalties for violations, Advocates said. “The entire premise of the rule will be undermined unless motor carriers and drivers have a strong incentive to comply.”

Advocates also questioned the agency’s cost calculations. It said that the estimated cost of adding ELDs to existing fleet management systems is too high, as is the estimate of a monthly printer cost of $153.

Update adds Advocates' comments.

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