Starting next month, all trucking companies must start complying with the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule. While this might seem like a technical issue that only people in the trucking industry would care about, it’s an important safety improvement for all of us.
You might not remember the 1977 comedy Smokey and the Bandit. Audiences cheered as the truck driver raced against time and outwitted the police to get beer from Texarkana to Atlanta within 28 hours. He made it with only 10 minutes to spare, then won a big bet by continuing driving to Boston in 18 hours.
Today drivers often race against the clock to get their load delivered by unreasonable deadlines. And they may not stop to take a much-needed rest break either. But tired truck drivers often cause real life tragedies.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) found that 13 percent of commercial drivers were fatigued when they crashed their trucks — so you know the number is much higher. The FMCSA addressed this risk factor by strengthening hours of service (HOS) rules which restrict the number of hours a truck driver is allowed to drive and work each week and mandates rest breaks.
The HOS regulations also require drivers to maintain logbooks that demonstrate they are in compliance. But skirting these rules has been far too easy.
In that past, these books that could be easily manipulated by drivers and employers. That is why a personal injury lawyer carefully reviews them for signs of alterations, inaccuracies and inconsistencies when investigating a truck crash case. Sometimes drivers keep two books, with one reflecting their actual drive times and the other with altered data that could be shown to regulators. In other cases, the drivers changed the data after an accident to protect themselves and their companies from legal liability.
The ELDs make these types of changes nearly impossible. As a result, drivers and their employers are more likely to follow the HOS rules and, if they don’t, they are much more likely to get caught.
The ELD rule requires truckers to install electronic logging devices in their vehicles by next month. During the phase-in stage, trucks that already have automatic onboard recording devices (AOBRDs), which are similar to ELDs, are allowed. However all trucks must eventually transition to the ELD devices within the next two years.
The ELD is directly connected to the truck’s engine and records such information as dates and times, engine activation, vehicular miles traveled, vehicle locations and drivers’ logon and logoff information. Edits to the data history are recorded so investigators know whether drivers attempted to tamper with the device and have access to the pre-edited data. Importantly, drive time cannot be edited, so there is no way to doctor the logbooks of a sleep-deprived driver.
Had Smokey had an ELD in his truck, regulators would have had he evidence they needed to stop him. He would likely have been fined and his commercial driver’s license suspended for violating the hours of service laws, and his company sued if he crashed into another vehicle. Of course that would have been a less entertaining ending to the film.