Rolf Lockwood

Rolf Lockwood

Electronic logging devices put me in a quandary. I don’t see the need, frankly, though I can see benefits for larger fleets in making the back office more efficient and in controlling drivers.

Proponents claim fuel savings, but there are better ways to reduce idling, speeding, and out-of-route miles.

Safety gains? Maybe, but I maintain that hours-of-service rules probably cause accidents on their own because drivers are forced out of natural rhythms and sleep patterns. One size does not fit all.

And don’t get me going about parking issues. I’d guess that many HOS violations are the direct result of drivers being unable to find a safe place to park for their mandated downtime. They drive and drive, maybe going over hours in the search. ELDs will simply make it worse.

Yes, for drivers and owner-operators there will be a gain on the paperwork side with no logbooks to manage, but one cost will be a total absence of HOS flexibility. I don’t mean that it’s OK to fudge the books in big ways. But when a driver runs out of hours 28 miles from home, I want him to “cheat.”

Let’s be realistic – which is exactly what HOS rules aren’t. And that means ELDs aren’t realistic either.

With his ELD automatically recording driving time down to the minute, it will be hard, even impossible, for a driver to run those last 28 miles.

And what about drivers who are “urged” by dispatch to stretch things? Don’t try to tell me this happens rarely. It happens even at reputable carriers with over-zealous dispatchers who, with the customer top of mind, push drivers too far. With ELDs I fear that dispatchers will force drivers to use every available legal minute even when they know it’s too much.

As always, the law is one thing, company policy is another, but the relationship between driver and dispatcher is where reality happens.

I recently corresponded with a veteran driver now well up the management ladder at a major fleet, who said we must give ELDs the chance to force change in the industry. He agreed that HOS rules are ridiculous but said they’re something we just have to live with.

I’m not so sure.

I say that because the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is now being urged to make improvements in data and research methods “to support a more comprehensive understanding of the relationships between operator fatigue and highway safety and between fatigue and long-term health.”

That comes from a new report prepared for the FMCSA by a committee of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. HDT Executive Editor David Cullen wrote about this in “Washington Watch” in March. It argues that we don’t have enough information on sleep deficiency in commercial drivers. “Therefore,” the report says, “research on the linkage among hours of service, fatigue, and accident frequency is hampered by imperfect knowledge of the three most central variables.”

The National Academies contends that any newly proposed changes to HOS rules and those for the medical certification of commercial drivers “need to be based on research-supported understanding of the costs and benefits of such changes.”

In other words, as I’ve been saying for ages, the “science” – which is a generous descriptor – behind the existing HOS mandate just plain isn’t good enough. We need a better system based on better science.