Truck Accident Prevention: New Electronic Monitoring Rules
Anyone who has ever driven on a highway and had a mammoth 18 wheeler fly by them is well aware of the potential dangers of overly tired truck drivers on our highways. At the very root of the problem is how over the road drivers are compensated. Truck drivers are typically paid by the mile which means they have a financial incentive to get their load from point A to point B as quickly as possible. We have long recognized the dangers that fatigued truck drivers can present to the public and there are laws that limit how long a trucker can be on the road before he has to take a rest. These Hours of Service (HOS) Rules are a bit complicated but basically they say that after 11 hours on the road a truck driver must take a mandatory 10 hour break. They also limit the cumulative amount that can be driven in any 7 day time period to 60 hours and 70 hours for an 8 day time period. These rules are enforced by roadside safety inspectors who will inspect a paper log book that each driver is required to keep that sets out the day and time he started his drive. Since 1938 when these rules were implemented truckers have kept paper logs documenting when they start a trip and all their stops and breaks – rules created to reduce accidents.
The problem with paper log books is that it is easy to fudge the numbers or even keep an entirely separate set of books for the inspectors which has been found to happen all too often. These log books have become such a joke amongst drivers that they refer to them as “comic books”. In an era of smart phones, GPS and Google Maps the idea that we are still requiring truck drivers to keep paper logs seems a bit out of date. This is especially true when you recognize that there has been a real issue with cheating and enforcement.
The Law is finally catching up with technology. On December 11, 2015 new Rules were published by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCA) requiring that truck drivers use what is known as an Electronic Logging Device. These EDLs are simple electronic devices that can monitor the time an engine is running, miles driven and location. The law becomes effective 60 days from its publication date and truckers will have two years to install an EDL. The beauty of these devices is that they are cheap and easy to install and can’t be gamed like log books. Roadside inspectors simply download the data and know immediately whether the driver of an 18 wheeler has been violating the safety rules. It will allow us to keep overly tired drivers who are breaking the law and endangering the public off the highways. The FMCA estimates that it will save 26 lives per year and over 560 injuries.
Although this may seem like a simple common sense safety issue to prevent truck accidents it has received mixed reviews from the trucking industry. Initially it was absolutely opposed by the industry who complained about the cost of installing these devices. Over the last few years, many large trucking companies have started using similar devices on their own, recognizing the value of making sure their drivers are acting in a safe and responsible manner, but also using them to assist with route logistics and efficiency. In fact, the American Trucking Association, an industry group that represents carriers, has come out in favor of the new rule. On the flip side, the Owner-Operator Independent Driver’s Association, an industry group which represents independent over the road truck drivers, has been fighting the implementation of these new safety rules. They claim that ELDs will allow the company to micro manage the time truck drivers spend on the road an pressure them to keep driving up to the legally allowable limits. In other words, they say that if a truck driver wanted to take a nap after four hours because he was tired but still had seven hours of allowable road time left, an employer could question his decision to stop and take a rest.
While there is no silver bullet that will solve this problem the ability to electronically monitor our over the road drivers and have safety inspectors get immediate and accurate information about how long they have been on the road, certainly seems to be a big step in the right direction.
At Devereaux Stokes, we praise this new measure and look forward to seeing highway accident statistics going down. While the incentives may, in fact, be in the wrong place for truck drivers (who are essentially incented to drive fast to make more money), this is one safety measure that has long been needed in this industry.