As far as trucking industry advocacy groups go, the Machinery Haulers Association is decidedly small. But what this group lacks in numbers (an issue the group is actively campaigning to reverse), it more than makes up for in its commitment to both industry knowledge and promoting safety.
In keeping with those efforts, the association invited Dave Heller, vice president of government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association, and a member of the HDT Editorial Advisory Board, to speak at its annual meeting on July 25 in Fontana, Wisconsin on current governmental trends and policymaking affecting the industry.
To begin with, Heller notde that love them or hate them, electronic logging devices (ELDs) are providing the trucking industry with massive amounts of real-time data about how trucks operate and how truck drivers spend their days. This data, Heller said, is now highlighting – with hard information – the need for more flexible Hours of Service rules, highlighting an “epidemic” in unsafe driving caused by smartphones as well as detention time issues and other industry problems.
“ELDs were never going to make you safer,” Heller told attendees at the conference, adding that a Northwestern University study found that accidents have not decreased as a result of the ELD Mandate, which went into effect last year. “They are a compliance tool. It is the Hours of Service which will help make your operations safer. That’s because the data they provide can be used to shape better regulations in the future.”
Some issues remain concerning the ownership of ELD data, Heller said. But, he said, to date, no ELD manufacturers are selling or marketing the data their devices collect to third-party customers the way many social media platforms do. Additionally, Heller said some privacy issues regarding ELDs and the data they collect still need to be worked out.
Heller said some savvy fleet managers are already using ELD data to determine corridors where freight is hot and adjust their operations accordingly. “We can’t make our days any longer,” he noted. “But what we can do is use the data provided by ELDs to make our days more sensible.”
ELDs are also highlighting safety issues, Heller pointed out. Detention has long been an issue for drivers. And now, he said, ELD data confirms that drivers who have been detained often driver faster to make up lost time for an extended period after they get on the road.
“That’s why a speed limiter bill is on tap in Congress,” he said. “Because ELDs have confirmed that speeding is the number-one safety problem and cause of accidents facing trucking. This particular speed limiter bill probably won’t go anywhere, but ELD data is showing us that some sort of speed limiter bill is the right to go in the future.”
Looking at other issues, Heller said that although infrastructure in the U.S. continues to deteriorate at an alarming rate, there is no sign of a bill to fund repairs or new infrastructure in sight. “We now have 47,000 structurally deficient bridges in the country. But because we are nearing the 2020 presidential campaign, it is unlikely anything will get done on this issue, since neither political party wants to give the other one an opportunity to claim a ‘win’ this close to the election.”
The other piece of worrisome news for fleets, Heller said, was the possibility of a sideguard/underride bill becoming law – legislation that would require fleets to retrofit trailers with protective structures designed to limit fatalities in collisions with passenger cars. Should such a bill become law, Heller said it would become the most expensive legislation to ever hit the U.S. trucking industry.
Another measure with the potential to seriously dent the bottom line for fleets is legislation calling for raising the minimum level of insurance for fleets to $4.9 million, instead of the current $750,000 minimum. Heller said proponents of the bill argue that the $750,000 minimum has been on the books since 1980, and that costs, including healthcare, have risen dramatically since then, and therefore that is no longer enough money to substantially cover damages in the event of a major accident.