US trucking regulators eye extending some ELD waivers

US trucking regulators eye extending some ELD waivers

A travels in the United States.

A truck travels in the United States. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com.

As the April 1 deadline for full enforcement of the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate draws closer, US regulators are struggling with how to implement ELDs in specific sub-sectors of trucking, especially agricultural shipping and truck rental and leasing operations.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) said Tuesday it would give truckers hauling agricultural goods an additional 90-day temporary waiver from the ELD mandate. That keeps the clock running on an existing agriculture transport ELD waiver that will expire March 18.

That is good news for agricultural shippers, including livestock owners, who feared strict out-of-service enforcement of ELD violations would sideline trucks and disrupt food supply chains starting April 1, just as the US spring produce season starts rolling in the South.

The FMCSA also acknowledged a petition for a new ELD waiver for drivers renting or leasing vehicles for fewer than 30 days. Those truckers have an ELD waiver through April 19, but the Truck Renting and Leasing Association (TRALA) wants to extend the waiver through Dec. 31, 2018.

“TRALA states that the waiver period, which is limited to 90 days, is not sufficient to address the ELD problems that they and their short-term lessors are encountering,” the agency said in a Federal Register notice Tuesday. They want additional time to develop “compliance strategies.”

Implementing ELD: a complex process

The granting of temporary waivers for these and other trucking sectors underscores the complexity of implementing the ELD rule, which requires more than 3 million US truck drivers to replace traditional paper log books used to record hours of service (HOS) with electronic devices.

The US ELD rule has had a wide-ranging impact on North American supply chains since it took effect Dec. 18. The immediate effect was a further tightening of truck capacity already squeezed by high freight demand in a more robust economy and sporadic severe winter storms.

The drayage and truckload sectors have been hit particularly hard, with shippers reporting more freight being “rolled” from day to day, along with longer transit times. But carriers from several other sectors, including agricultural product and food haulers, have additional concerns.

Agricultural haulers, especially livestock carriers, already operate under HOS exemptions that may be difficult to match up with ELDs. Agricultural haulers moving goods and livestock less than 150 air miles are exempt from logging of any type, manual or electronic.

Once a truck or tractor-trailer goes beyond that 150-air-mile radius, however, “the driver must maintain logs using an ELD, unless the driver or the vehicle meets one of the limited ELD exemptions,” the FMCSA said in a notice explaining its agricultural exemption.

“When operating within the 150-air-mile radius the driver should not log into the ELD,” the FMCSA said. “Upon exiting that radius, the driver should then log into the ELD, and annotate that any unassigned miles accumulated prior to that point were exempt miles.

Livestock owners say ELD puts animals at risk

Livestock owners argue the ELD and current HOS rules could put animals at risk. “Many livestock operations are located in remote, rural areas and routinely require long hauls to transport animals,” a group of livestock organizations said in a petition to FMCSA last year.

Animals, when loaded onto trailers, are vulnerable to changes in temperature, especially warmer weather. Industry guidelines require drivers to avoid stops while hauling livestock to prevent animals from overheating, the livestock organizations said in their petition.

“We are mindful of the unique work our agriculture community does and will use the following 90 days to ensure we publish more helpful guidance that all operators will benefit from,” said FMCSA Administrator Ray Martinez, who was sworn into office March 1.

Some want more than guidance. US Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, calls the ELD rule “impractical in cattle country.” He wants a livestock exemption extended through Dec. 31. “A year will give our industry and FMCSA the time they need to come to a long-term solution that is safe for motorists and animals," he said.

Others in Congress, led by US Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, want a broader exemption for all truckers that would effectively shelve the mandate. The ELD mandate is “not only hurting our economy but making our shared goal of rebuilding our infrastructure that much harder,” Babin said.

“The bigger concern is the underlying HOS regulations and the inflexibible enforcement of them triggered by an ELD,” Babin said during a March 7 House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee hearing with US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

When it comes to the ELD mandate and HOS, “we are very much constrained by the law,” Chao told the House committee at a hearing on the Trump administration’s infrastructure plan. Congress will have to change the law if it wants broader waivers to a mandate it required.

Contact William B. Cassidy at bill.cassidy@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @wbcassidy_joc.