The electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, now in its seventh month, is driving renewed efforts in Washington to revise truck driver hours-of-service (HOS) rules, and some change could be possible — if legislation can make its way through Congress in an election year.
The Honest Operators Undertake Road Safety (HOURS) Act, introduced by a bipartisan group of US representatives last week, wouldn’t give truck drivers more time on the road, but it would harmonize certain rules and cement some logbook regulatory exemptions in law.
The bill also would eliminate “redundant” paperwork requirements trucks must follow and accelerate a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration review of whether truck drivers should be allowed to split their rest time by taking off-duty rest periods in truck sleeper berths.
“The HOURS Act seeks narrow relief from requirements that have rendered our drivers’ operations less efficient,” US Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Ark., said June 21. The bill is co-sponsored by Crawford, US Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., and US Rep. Sanford Bishop, Jr., D-Ga.
What the HOURS bill would not do is eliminate or roll back the ELD mandate, which took effect last Dec. 18. In May, two US representatives introduced a bill that would exempt businesses with 10 or fewer trucks. Such businesses constitute a large swathe of the trucking industry.
The sponsors of the Small Carrier Electronic Logging Device Exemption Act, US Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., and US Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., also introduced the Agricultural Business Electronic Logging Device Exemption Act, which would exempt all agricultural businesses.
In March, US Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, introduced the Responsible and Effective Standards for Truckers Act, which would allow truck drivers to split on-duty periods with an off-duty break of up to three hours, as long as the total daily driving or work time is not extended.
Bill(s) must survive arduous legislative review process
All of these bills have been supported or opposed by various industry lobbying groups. To become law, however, they will have to move through subcommittees and committees, hitching a ride as an amendment to a larger, successful bill, and survive a House-Senate conference.
That’s a difficult path to follow in today’s fractious politics. Riders are more likely to be stripped from bills in order to get a higher number of votes, especially in the Senate. And amendments today not only pit Democrats against Republicans, but Republicans against Republicans.
The battle over the $674.6 billion defense spending bill is an example. More than 100 amendments have been filed to the House bill alone. In the Senate, the transportation and Housing spending bill was stripped of riders to get it through the appropriations committee.
Bills that would overturn or restrict the ELD rule — a congressional mandate included in the 2012 transportation spending act — are likely to face a steeper uphill climb than those that focus on underlying HOS issues. Attempts even to delay the ELD rule failed last year in Congress.
Legislation that changes the HOS rules to give truck drivers and trucking companies greater flexibility and efficiencies might have a better chance, if its proponents can counter arguments that such changes would either impact safety or enable harassment of drivers.
Changing the HOS rules will not be easy. Congress launched a rewrite of the HOS rules, which date back to 1935, in 1995, when it shut down the Interstate Commerce Commission. That rewrite took 21 years and involved battles in court chambers and the halls of Congress.
ELD’s impact was almost immediate
The ELD mandate didn’t change truck driver HOS, just the method used to record them. Paper logs used, and often abused, since the 1930s were tossed, with a few exceptions.
The impact on shipping was almost immediate: longer transit times and delayed deliveries.
“ELDs have made it more difficult for drivers to ‘fudge’ their logs, but have also shown where the weaknesses in the HOS rules are,” Collin Stewart, president and CEO of Stewart Transport and chairman of the Small Carrier Advisory Committee of the American Trucking Associations (ATA).
“Many complaints associated with ELDs are really issues with the [HOS] rules themselves,” said Stewart, also a member of the board of ATA’s Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference. ATA, a supporter of the ELD mandate, supports the HOURS act.
One of the biggest driver complaints, however, is that they feel they must race the 14-hour clock each day (truckers may work for 14 hours, and drive for 11 of those hours, before being required to take a 10 hour off-duty break. They may work 60 or 70 hours in a seven- or eight-day period.).
It’s unlikely any proposal that would add more hours to the driver’s work day could make it through Congress (although under HOS rules replaced in 2004 drivers could work up to 17 hours, including breaks). “A longer day for truck drivers” isn’t a winning political slogan.
Proposals that involve splitting rest time in a sleeper berth, or making recent federal guidance on the use of trucks in “personal conveyance” law, could help drivers better manage the hours they do have, and might garner more support at the congressional committee level.
Drivers and carriers can become more efficient — they’re being forced to by the ELD requirement. But truckers are being “rushed” by the delivery demands of customers: shippers, consignees, and consumers. At the end of the day, they’re the ones who control the clock.
As much as many truckers feel injured by the ELD mandate, the change to electronic logging has helped truckers wrest back some of that control. Logs can’t be “fudged,” as Stewart said, to fit a shipper’s schedule. That’s why many former one-day shipments are now two-day trips.
Whether HOS reform occurs or not on Capitol Hill, the real battle to make truck driving efficient, safer, and still remunerative will be fought at the local warehouse and shipper docks.