Photo: FMCSA

Photo: FMCSA

[Updated] The House Transportation Committee has attached a directive to this year’s Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) appropriations bill that could end up delaying or repealing the electronic logging device mandate set to go into effect on Dec. 18. Also added to the bill was a directive calling for a review of the technology platforms of ELD suppliers.

The committee voted 31-20 late in the evening of Monday, July 17, to send the bill to the full House. The legislation also moves forward with a rider long sought by trucking interests that would prevent states from enacting laws dictating meal and rest break requirements for truckers.

Also still included is a rider that would prevent advancing a safety-fitness determination rulemaking until the DOT Inspector General has issued certain certifications required by law.

As for ELDs, the House THUD bill now directs the Department of Transportation “to analyze whether a full or targeted delay in ELD implementation and enforcement would be appropriate and, if so, what options DOT has within its statutory authority to provide temporary regulatory relief until all ELD implementation challenges can be resolved.” In addition, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is directed to “provide a report on its findings to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations within 60 days of enactment of this Act.”

The second directive calls for FMCSA to review ELD manufacturers' technology platforms  “to confirm that devices not only meet standards and specifications necessary for all affected industries and fleet sizes to be compliant, but also provide a user interface that is reasonably easy to navigate.” There is no deadline for complying with this order.

In its report on the bill, the committee justified its concern by noting the “heavy burden of this mandate, especially on small carriers.” It also stated that the mandate is “projected to cost over $2 billion to implement,making it one of the most expensive of all transportation rulemakings advanced under the previous administration.”

The report also makes this argument for Congress to step in: “While large carriers already deploy similar technologies for fleet management, smaller carriers will disproportionately bear new costs associated with the mandate and with no compensating benefit to their bottom line. The committee is concerned by reports of serious complications associated with implementation. Many significant technological concerns remain unresolved, including certification of devices, connectivity problems in remote locations, cyber vulnerabilities, and the ability of law enforcement to access data."

Echoing the concern about the impact on smaller carriers expressed by the committee, Todd Spencer, executive director of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, told HDT that “clearly, members of Congress have heard concerns about the mandate from their constituents. The agency has failed to answer important questions from Congress and industry stakeholders about this mandate.

“This includes issues related to enforcement, connectivity, data transfers, cybersecurity vulnerabilities, and many other legitimate real world concerns,” he continued. “The agency refuses to certify any ELD as compliant with the rule, thus leaving consumers with no idea if a device they purchase is indeed compliant.” 

On the other hand, the American Trucking Associations lambasted the directive to revisit the ELD rule.

“ATA is disappointed that this misguided provision was included in this version of the FY 2018 T-HUD appropriations bill,” ATA Executive Vice President of Advocacy Bill Sullivan told HDT. “It would take a step to potentially weaken the electronic logging device mandate due to go into effect this year…  This is a nakedly transparent effort by opponents of ELDs to chip away at a rule that will ensure compliance with hours-of-service and improve safety. 

“We will work to ensure members are educated about the difference between the existing hours of service rules and the basics of logging, whether electronically or on paper,” he added. “As this appropriations bill moves to the House floor and through the Senate, we believe that members in the Senate or in conference will not support this language becoming law. ATA is committed to helping FMCSA as it moves toward meeting the December implementation deadline for this critical safety rule.” 

In a joint statement, Steve Williams, president, and Kevin Knight, vice president, respectively, of the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security (aka the Trucking Alliance) also took exception to the committee’s stance on the ELD rule.

“Contained within the legislation is language that would delay the installation of electronic logging devices (ELDs) in all interstate commercial trucks," stated Williams, chairman and CEO of Maverick Transportation, and Knight, executive chairman of the board of Knight Transportation. 

“There’s no valid reason to delay this much-needed truck safety measure,” they argued. “In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is doing an admirable job to meet the timeline by the date which requires that all commercial interstate trucks install these electronic devices.” 

The two prominent trucking executives pointed out that they had warned DOT Secretary Elaine Chao back in April that “certain small segments of the trucking industry would try and delay this important safety measure. The House appropriations committee’s action appears to bear this out. We want to reemphasize in this statement the importance of what we wrote to Secretary Chao just four months ago.” 

They also stated that the ELD rule “will improve highway safety and lower the number of large truck accidents” and also “enable both trucking companies and their drivers to proudly demonstrate their enviable work ethics, but within the legal framework of federal hours-of-service rules. Industry-wide compliance will ensure that the nation’s commercial truck drivers are rested, safer and more secure in their jobs. 

“The ELD rule is one of several current safety reforms that must be adopted to reduce large truck accidents, injuries and fatalities,” added Williams and Knight. “Our industry shares the highways with millions of people each day. We must keep the public’s trust, by ensuring the public that commercial drivers are properly trained, rested, drug and alcohol free and compliant with the law. The ELD rule is critical to achieving that goal.” 

Offering an ELD supplier perspective, Pete Allen, executive vice president of MiX Telematics, said that “the rider has little chance of surviving” the legislative process. “The original bill mandating the use of ELDs passed through a Republican House and Senate. How likely is it that a Republican House and Senate will repeal their own bill?”

Allen also pointed out that there are benefits to ELDs beyond compliance. “Most fleets we talk with are interested in much more than compliance. They are investing in ELD solutions to improve safety and efficiency, and as a result are saving $50 to $100 per month, per vehicle –even after taking into account the cost of the technology.”

Still, the ELD passage in the bill report is certainly hard-hitting. If nothing else, it signals that Republicans on the committee wanted it on record that they proposed delaying the implementation of the ELD rule if not chucking it altogether — even at this late date.

It’s the sort of legislative language that may look good on paper to certain constituents, but has little chance of staying in a bill that is ultimately passed by Congress.  

What’s more, the timing does not bode well for anyone hoping to slow or stop the rollout of the ELD rule.

The mandate kicks in five months from now. So, for the committee’s directive to have any impact, a final THUD bill would have to be passed by both the House and Senate and signed into law by President Trump no later than mid-October.

But wait – then the full Congress would still have to pass and get signed a separate bill (based on what the DOT report finds) directing DOT to delay or reverse the mandate.

Updated 2:15 p.m. EDT 7/18/17 to add OOIDA and ATA comments

Updated 3:15 pm EDT 7/18/17 to add comments by Williams and Knight

Updated 4:00 pm EDT 7/18/17 to add commments by MiX Telematics

About the author
David Cullen

David Cullen

[Former] Business/Washington Contributing Editor

David Cullen comments on the positive and negative factors impacting trucking – from the latest government regulations and policy initiatives coming out of Washington DC to the array of business and societal pressures that also determine what truck-fleet managers must do to ensure their operations keep on driving ahead.

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