ELD mandate isn’t about safety

December 8, 2017

Mark Schremmer

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This statement will not serve as news to truck drivers, but it still needs to be said.

The electronic logging device mandate has nothing to do with safety.

While truck drivers are well aware of this, many people in the general public remain misinformed.

Case in point, check out a recent column from Chris Tomlinson of the Houston Chronicle. Using the headline “Lifesaving trucking regulation needs protection,” Tomlinson attempts to educate readers on why the ELD mandate is necessary.

As you probably guessed, there are many problems with the article.

Here are a few of the most glaring:

• Tomlinson says the current hours-of-service regulations have dramatically reduced the number of big rig accidents because of driver fatigue. However, he never provides any actual numbers.

• He uses fear by telling readers that the ELD mandate “means a lower chance of an 80,000-pound truck smashing into our cars at 70 mph.”

• Tomlinson writes, “By some estimates, 15 percent to 20 percent of drivers fudge their logs to squeeze out extra hours and make extra money.” Of course, there is no source connected to this extremely vague reference of “by some estimates.”

• Despite several references to the ELD mandate saving lives, Tomlinson provides no statistics or studies that support those claims.

• It doesn’t appear he ever spoke with any of the independent truck drivers who oppose the mandate. Instead, he just lumps them all in as “cheaters.”

Since Tomlinson didn’t bother to provide any real statistics, here are a few that could have really helped his column:

• A 2016 analysis conducted by the OOIDA Foundation showed carriers with ELDs experienced more crashes than carriers without ELDs. Using publically available information from the FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, and Accountability Safety Measurement System website, the OOIDA Foundation discovered that the average crash rate per 100 power units was 5.2 for carriers with ELDs and 3.5 for carriers without ELDs.

• According to the OOIDA Foundation, “While fatigue is often haphazardly linked to hours-of-service compliance, the agency’s database demonstrates that between 1.4 and 1.8 percent of large truck fatal crashes were related to fatigue between 2011 and 2014. These data suggest that relatively few, if any, crashes will actually be reduced due to the mandatory utilization of ELDs.”

• Based on statistics from the FRG Law Firm, the number of crashes involving Swift Transportation, which uses ELDs, has increased by 50.4 percent since 2012. In the 24-month period prior to Dec. 3, 2017, Swift drivers were reported to have been involved in 2,256 crashes with 657 injuries and 67 deaths.

• Swift isn’t alone among carriers with ELDs witnessing large increases in crashes since 2012. J.B. Hunt’s number of crashes increased by 86 percent, while the number of Fed Ex crashes increased by 254.5 percent.

• In the 24-month period prior to Dec. 3, 2017, crashes involving Swift, J.B. Hunt, Conway Freight, Fed Ex and UPS resulted in 249 deaths.

Now, tell me again about how ELDs save lives.

Danny Schnautz, an OOIDA senior member from Pasadena, Texas, sent a rebuttal to the Houston Chronicle. He hopes the newspaper will do some research and write a more balanced and informed follow-up article.

“Chris Tomlinson’s Dec. 5 column is incomplete and therefore erroneous when he speaks about truck safety,” Schnautz wrote. “He apparently spoke with only one person, a relative newcomer to trucking who has never been a truck driver, to form his full-tilt opinion in favor of federal regulation via electronics.”

Schnautz argues that an ELD could actually increase the potential of a crash.

“Fatigue is listed as a factor in just 1.8 percent of the crashes involving trucks, and that is rarely because a driver went over hours. The body’s circadian rhythms are at odds with a non-stoppable work clock – so the ELD discourages the longstanding practice of drivers stopping for a nap or a cup of coffee. All motorists, truckers included, know that short break from driving is a valuable alertness tool. With ELDs, fewer drivers will be doing that as they maximize the allowable driving time exactly as the regulations state in order to make their living. The statistics show that the most crashes are in the first three hours of a duty cycle, not the last ones. Fatigue can happen at any part of the shift. ELDs cannot attempt to address this, either.”

In addition, the FMCSA didn’t find any safety improvements among carriers who started using logging devices.

“The agency was not able to construct statistically significant measures of safety improvement for carriers that installed ELDs by directly examining the crash data of these carriers, because crash is a rare occurrence for an average commercial motor vehicle,” the FMCSA wrote in its Regulatory Impact Analysis.

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, staff writer, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and nearly two decades of journalism experience to our staff.