A lot of people really hate ELDs. If you’re a driver, a dispatcher, or an administrator, that’s not news to you. Not everyone hates them, of course. A recent survey reported by FleetOwner found an industry split on whether ELDs are good or bad. 47% of respondents said yes, they’re good for the industry, 38% said no, and the remaining 15% were unsure.
So, what are some of the reasons for the hate, and how do they look after a full year of the mandate enforcement? Some drivers would tell you it’s about privacy. Others would tell you they just don’t want to deal with a computer in their truck. But for most drivers, at least the ones I’ve talked to, the issue seems to come down to how ELDs impact time management.
Time management is at the heart of truck driving. Drivers and dispatchers must balance load times, traffic patterns, speed limits, vehicle capabilities, and the driver’s own physical and mental fatigue to try and maintain a network of pickups and drop-offs. In all of this, keeping the truck loaded and moving is usually the primary consideration. Since 1938, hours of service rules have been part of that consideration.
For most drivers, the response to changes in hours of service rules is to change their behavior. The vast majority of drivers follow the rules. But even the most scrupulous drivers can find themselves in a position where they need to make up lost time. With an ELD on board, that becomes a lot more challenging.
Nobody really wants to drive more than 11 hours in a day. What most drivers want is the ability to actually spend their 11 hours driving. With a 14-hour clock that starts at the beginning of the day and keeps rolling no matter what, any wasted time ends up cutting into drive time. Loads end up sitting instead of advancing. Drivers end up sleeping in the truck instead of getting home on time. So, when your time gets wasted, there’s a desire to make up for that wasted time by adjusting your hours. And that makes it easy to hate the ELD.
One of the most common complaints I hear about ELDs is that they don’t account for time wasted by the shipper. When a shipper makes a driver sit for hours, the 14-hour clock just keeps rolling. When a shipper overloads a truck, it leaves the driver with an impossible decision. Do they drive back to the shipper and get their load changed? Driving back means even more time off the 14-hour duty clock and could end up meaning an entire day wasted. Or do they drive illegally and risk a ticket, delays, and points against their CSA score? Overweight tickets are no joke, and some states will impound your truck for running too heavy.
Before ELDs, a lot of drivers would have gone back to the shipper, got their load sorted out, and then “started their day”. It was easy enough to adjust a paper log to start at the moment you really started moving the load forward. And most smart drivers would have spent their time waiting on the shipper taking a nap. Many drivers continue to argue that HOS rules need to accommodate these situations and allow the driver to make decisions about their fatigue level.
But with the ELD in place, the driver is bound to the 14 hours. When the truck starts moving at the beginning of the day, the driver is on-duty whether they put themselves on duty or not. It’s easy to hate the ELD in this situation.
But avoiding the problem in the first place with a weight management system would solve the problem before it starts. There are numerous options available, we've talked about some of them before. Every carrier will have to balance the costs of the solutions against the costs of the problem, but I think it is clear that doing nothing is no longer an option. Problems once covered up by paper logs' “flexibility” are now forced into the light.
Some traffic patterns are predictable. If you’re rolling into Boston during rush hour, you’ve either made a rookie mistake or been given the world’s most unfortunate appointment time. Planning for predictable traffic patterns is one of the many things that makes a professional driver a professional. But traffic isn’t always predictable.
When some commuter spins their car sideways through three lanes of traffic and shuts down a major highway, trucks get stuck in the jam. Sure, you can avoid the backup once it’s already happening, but in the minutes while the clog develops it is easy for a driver to get trapped. And there that driver will sit, losing time off their 14-hour clock until somebody can get the wreckage cleared and get traffic moving again. And that makes it easy to hate the ELD.
The current HOS rules contain an adverse conditions exemption, which will allow a driver to extend their drive time by two hours. Drivers can only claim adverse conditions for unforeseen circumstances. Rush hour traffic won’t cut it for this one. This exemption doesn’t extend the 14-hour clock, so drivers must be careful in using it.
One of the most frustrating reasons to lose time is because the truck quit working. Whether it’s a tire issue or engine trouble, the driver is losing time and there’s nothing they can do about it. For the carrier, their load is sitting on the side of the road and they’re looking at the cost of repairing whatever has gone wrong.
Nobody wants to be stuck on the side of the road, even without a clock running in the background. The ELD puts extra pressure on the situation. That 14-hour clock ticks away, even if the driver is taking a nap waiting on the insurance company to send their roadside service guy to fix the truck. If they get the truck running again, the driver gets no extra time to make up for what was lost. And that makes it easy to hate the ELD.
Not every roadside emergency is predictable, but some are avoidable. Using tools like tire pressure monitoring systems can help avoid reacting to tire emergencies rather than scheduling tire changes. Engine diagnostic tools can help keep track of what’s happening under the hood. That might give you enough warning to take care of a problem at the terminal, rather than on the side of the road.
Getting pulled over will ruin your day, whether you’re in a semi or a personal vehicle. Nobody likes talking to the cops on the side of the road, especially when they’re telling you what you did wrong. The frustration of a ticket hits even harder when the entire traffic stop is taking time out of your limited window to work.
Most interactions with the police start because of something noticeably wrong with the truck. The single most common problem: a burned-out light. Once you’re pulled over, the real time-drain starts. Questions about log-books, further inspection of the vehicle, questions about what you’re hauling. The police officer isn’t the one with a ticking clock. The driver is. And the whole time, that 14-hour window is getting smaller and smaller. And that makes it easy to hate the ELD.
Luckily, a lot of these interruptions can be avoided by keeping the outside of your truck compliant. Make sure every light is in working order. Make sure your registration and tags are up to date. Make sure every placard on the truck is correct. You can’t avoid talking to DOT at the scale-house, but you can plan for those interruptions. It’s the random, roadside encounters that really chew up your clock.
Now that the ELD mandate has been around for a year, multiple proposals for new HOS rules have been floated. Just last month, Ray Martinez, head of the FMCSA, said that they are moving toward a “notice of proposed rule making”. Hopefully, these new rules will take into account lessons learned from the ELD mandate’s stricter enforcement of existing HOS. Perhaps by doing so, the FMCSA can make driver’s lives easier this time. One thing is certain, time management will remain a central aspect of the driver’s profession.
Back in 2014, 71% of drivers polled by Overdrive said they would leave the industry if ELDs became mandated. It’s been one year since enforcement began, and a little less than half of the drivers polled think ELDs are good for the industry. I think it’s safe to say the hate for ELDs has died off as they’ve become a part of drivers' lives. But there are still reasons people dislike them and there is still room for improvement.
Companies invested in supporting truckers and the transportation industry would do well to consider the reasons why drivers dislike some of these technological solutions. By listening to their end-users, smart companies can build better products and services to better serve their potential customers. While some of the reasons for hating ELDs may never go away, some, particularly those outside forces that waste the driver’s time, can be met with new solutions. Hopefully, as we move forward in this new era of trucking, all parties involved can continue listening to each other and shape an industry that benefits everyone.
What do you think? Are you one of the 47% that thinks ELDs are a benefit to the industry? Let us know in the comments.