On December 18, 2017, new regulations from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) came into effect. They require the use of onboard computers, known as Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs), for almost all commercial semi-trucks.
ELDs record date, time, location, engine hours, mileage, trucking company, specific vehicle, and driver ID. Law enforcement will use the data from the ELDs to fine trucking companies whose drivers exceed the legal limit for hours on the road.
The regulations took aim at accidents caused by fatigued or ill drivers who exceeded the legally limited hours of service, such as the high-profile tragedy that killed a man and severely injured comedian Tracy Morgan. Like most government regulations, the ELD mandates fail to solve the intended problem while creating a host of catastrophic side effects.
Even though truckers staged protests in the months leading up to December 18, the mandates received little coverage from national media outlets. Here’s why the ELD regulations deserve our attention.
1. They Dehumanize a Very Human Industry
A trucker’s job is to get goods from point A to point B. So while almost all truckers are paid by the mile, the mandates regulate the hours worked. The laws constrain truckers’ time, but their job depends on the distance.
This tension means that truckers are now disincentivized from every other component of a job well done except for the time. The ELD mandate makes shipments a race against the clock as truckers try to finish the job as quickly as possible before they get fined. Many drivers say they will have to start taking more risks and extending fewer courtesies to fellow motorists, now that the clock is their boss.
Proponents of the new measures point out that ELDs don’t change the hours of service regulations. The devices simply help to enforce the current laws more accurately than pen-and-paper logs did. While this is correct, it’s exactly why ELDs are so harmful. They make a one-size-fits-all decision about how truckers should plan their own trips. These kinds of regulations hurt any industry, but especially cripple truckers, who must often make judgment calls based on traffic, weather conditions, rerouted shipments, and other innumerable variables.
Anyone who has ever worked a job for hourly pay knows that sometimes you have to stay after your shift to make sure the job gets done. It’s the same for truckers, except now they will be penalized. This attempt to dehumanize the industry is a foolish move, but it’s a tale as old as time for government regulations.
2. They Will Likely Hurt Trucking, and Thus Everyone
A few years ago, 71 percent of independent and owner-operated trucking companies said they would quit if ELD mandates went into effect. Smaller firms just can’t have significant decisions made for them. Experts in the industry say many experienced and over-60 truck drivers will use the new mandates as an opportunity to switch industries or even retire.
While trucking fleets will shrink, those that remain on the roads will be hindered in shipping goods on time. This is a terrifying prospect when you consider that, besides your Amazon boxes, truckers transport extremely important and time-sensitive goods like gasoline, medication, and hospital supplies.
3. These Rules Treat Truckers Like Criminals
American truckers are often fiercely proud and independent, as many country music songs can attest. Their jobs are essential but arduous. Since nearly every manmade object you’ve ever touched has been transported on a truck, it’s in your interest to make sure truckers are treated well.
Truckers have a stellar record both for jobs done well and for safety. The least we could do is give them some privacy. But the ELD mandates swap the pen and paper for an expensive surveillance box that tracks drivers’ every move.
Law enforcement can view the ELDs in roadside inspections, traffic infractions, and compliance audits. The mandates’ apologists assure us that ELDs aren’t big brother watching, but the National Security Agency revelations from a few years back remind us that bureaucrats don’t always keep their word on electronic privacy.
While the ELD mandates were drafted in the Obama years, the current administration has shown no signs that it intends to repeal them. America’s 3.5 million truckers and their communities formed a crucial part of President Trump’s electoral base in 2016, and he would be wise to hear their plight. Rep. Brian Babin’s (R-TX) November attempt to delay the mandate was the latest in a string of legislative failures to prevent the regulations from taking effect. So far, legal attempts have also gone nowhere.
If the effects on consumers are as drastic as some in the trucking industry predict, then it won’t be long before people begin to notice that something is wrong. Either way, Americans should oppose the straightjacket that the bureaucratic state is trying to place on one of the nation’s most important industries.