Why US trucking’s electronic logging device era is irreversible

Why US trucking’s electronic logging device era is irreversible

Trucks travel on a US highway.

The electronic logging device (ELD) mandate did not cause a loss of drivers, but a loss of driving hours. Further, changes shippers made that were propelled by the ELD are likely to be lasting, even if exemption amendments for selected trucking segments are passed. Photo credit: Shutterstock.com.

Eight months into the electronic logging era, the impact of the US electronic logging device (ELD) mandate is becoming clearer, and it’s both greater and less than anticipated.

A year ago, it was widely expected that tens of thousands of truck drivers would turn in their keys and quit trucking for good after the mandate fell into place on Dec. 18, leading to an immediate capacity crisis just weeks before Christmas. We got the capacity crisis, all right, but not because truckers quit. In fact, there now may be more truck drivers than ever.

According to federal data analyzed by Tucker Company Worldwide, 542,000 drivers have entered the workforce since 2012, with the total reaching 2.5 million by May 2018, five months after the ELD mandate took effect and one month after its enforcement deadline.

The second big expectation was a wave of out-of-service orders on truck drivers once full enforcement began on April 1. Again, that didn’t happen. In May, fewer than 1 percent of all roadside truck inspections resulted in a driver being cited for operating without an ELD.

The percentage of driver inspections with at least one hours-of-service (HOS) violation dropped from 1.19 to 0.64 percent from December through May, with the percentage sticking at about 0.84 percent from January through March and falling again as ELD enforcement took effect in April.

Loss of driving hours, not drivers, extended some transit times

What did happen is widespread compliance with the ELD mandate and, with hours being logged electronically, HOS rules. The biggest effect of the mandate wasn’t a loss of drivers, but of driving hours. That dramatically extended some shipment transit times.

The widespread impact on truckload transit times documented by companies such as Zipline Logistics revealed just how endemic HOS violations had been prior to the ELD mandate and created a situation in which capacity was displaced throughout the United States. That led shippers to rethink everything from carrier selection to distribution center locations.

That’s a much broader impact on supply chains than foreseen by shippers surveyed by JOC.com a year ago, and not the impact they were expecting. And the changes shippers are making to rebalance supply chains and eliminate inefficiencies are likely to be lasting, even if efforts to exempt large numbers of truckers from the rule were to succeed.

Currently, there’s one such effort before the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, a petition from the Small Business in Transportation Coalition seeking an exemption for all truck operators with fewer than 50 employees. The US Senate, in its transportation funding bill, passed legislation that would effectively extend an existing exemption for agricultural haulers.

A few bills that would overturn or revise the mandate have been introduced in the US House of Representatives, where sponsors hope they will be added to larger legislation and become law. The Small Carrier Electronic Logging Device Exemption Act, for one, targets fleets of up to 10 trucks.

The odds, however, are against federal regulators or Congress approving a blanket exemption. They’re more likely to revise the HOS rules or tinker on the edges of the mandate, as the Senate bill would. The longer the ELD mandate is in effect, the more pervasive its influence on supply chains. At this point, that influence increasingly looks irreversible.  

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

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