One year after the effective date of the federal mandate requiring electronic logging devices (ELD), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) says it has proven effective in reducing hours of service (HOS) violations designed to eliminate fatigued driving. In a six-month analysis, the FMCSA reported HOS violations have steadily decreased, which is good news and a testament to the efficacy of ELD technology. However, there continue to be negative unintended consequences caused by the constraints and inflexibility with HOS rules that hinder compliance.
An ELD automatically records driving time down to the minute. Under HOS rules, drivers of a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) have 660 minutes a day to legally drive. The HOS rule requires that a driver of a property-carrying vehicle drive a maximum of 11 hours within a 14-hour window of time, after being off-duty for 10 consecutive hours. In addition, a driver must take a 30-minute rest break after being on duty for eight consecutive hours.
Speeding to Beat the Clock: One unintended consequence of the HOS mandate is that some drivers speed to add miles to “beat the ELD clock.” According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), speeding contributes to 18% of all fatal crashes where a truck is deemed to be at fault. The reality is that most CMV drivers don’t live in a 9-to-5 world. When a driver starts a 14-hour day, they can’t regulate the ELD clock. They are forced to keep moving sometimes against common sense, such as driving during rush hour instead of later when traffic has subsided. Some drivers report that they feel pressured by pushy company dispatchers to use every available HOS minute to maintain schedules. In these work environments, delivery pressures often butt heads with HOS rules. In industry surveys, many drivers report feeling pressured to drive at a faster speed to maximize use of HOS minutes.
Time-consuming Search for Safe Parking: The second unintended consequence is the shortage of safe parking spots for trucks, especially those carrying oversized loads. Invariably, drivers push the limits of HOS compliance because they are unable to find a safe place to park for their mandated downtime. In extreme situations, drivers may have to drive beyond their HOS limits searching for a safe spot to park. Drivers feel stressed out watching the clock tick toward their final minutes of legal driving when they are unable to find a good or safe place to park. Many drivers refuse to sleep on the side of the road because they do not feel safe. But the scarcity of parking spaces forces many drivers to park there nevertheless due to no better alternative.
About 85% of surveyed drivers report that they struggle to find parking to comply with the HOS mandate. However, ELDs are not the cause of the parking shortage, which has been a pre-existing constriction along most major trucking corridors for a number of years. The problem is the inflexibility of the HOS mandate, which makes it difficult for drivers to shift hours in order to position themselves to be in an area with a greater abundance of safe places to park. Sometimes drivers reach their maximum driving hours and find themselves in areas with limited or filled parking, which often occurs in high-demand and heavily trafficked areas. The inflexibility of HOS regulations sometimes gives drivers no choice and forces them to park for as much as 10 hours in risky and unsafe areas.
The Need for HOS Flexibility
The FMCSA has solicited public comments on revising four specific areas of current HOS regulations, which limit the operating hours of commercial truck drivers. The “800-pound gorilla in the room” is that some drivers are driving aggressively to increase pay or at the behest of taskmaster dispatchers to get as much done before the HOS clock runs out. The ELD has become the new stopwatch. While I have no easy answers to these questions, I’m confident that the last thing companies and the driving public want is stressed out drivers pushing the envelope trying to beat the ELD clock. Recognizing that regulations can never encompass all the variables found in every business, what I can say is that there needs to be more flexibility in HOS rules. Hopefully, the data collected by ELDs and telematics systems can help provide the analytics and empirical justification to refine HOS parameters to address the root causes of these unintended consequences.
Let me know what you think.