Racing to park as the ELD clock ticks

March 9, 2018

John Bendel

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Maybe it’s a straw in the wind, or maybe a dead canary in the coal mine. Pick your cliché for a bad omen. We may have one here in the truckload world.

It seems some truckers are driving too fast – often in truck stop lots. Jon Osburn sees it from OOIDA’s Spirit in truck stops around the country. Sometimes they pull in at near street speeds, he said.

“I saw drivers at a truck stop in fifth and sixth gear,” Jon said of a recent stop in Laredo, Texas. “They’re in a hurry to find a parking space.”

The reason?

“ELDs,” Jon asserted. “There’s a clock face staring back at the driver.”

That clock is ticking off the minutes of their 14-hour day.

Parking has been a problem for a long time. ELDs and the drop-dead 14-hour clock are making it worse. When that clock runs out, you had better be parked.

Could Jon’s nonscientific observations point to a trend? Are ELDs and the 14-hour rulemaking things worse than we thought they would? It’s possible – very possible.

According to a recent OOIDA poll, the Electronic Logging Device Survey 2018, 70 percent of the drivers who responded say ELDs added to the 14-hour rule have forced them to park in unsafe areas. Seventy-seven percent have been forced to park in unsecured areas, fully 87 percent say they have been forced to look for parking earlier in their working day, and 85 percent believe the parking issue has gotten worse since the ELD mandate.

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Short of regulatory relief from the FMCSA or a deep recession, it won’t get any better. And parking is just one problem that worsened with the ELD. So is making the last 5 miles to home before that clock staring at you runs out. It all adds up to stress that doesn’t necessarily end when you finally park. It can mess up your sleep, generate fatigue, and maybe even make some of us drive too fast in truck stop lots. Anecdotal indications are that some drivers are driving faster elsewhere too, particularly on the secondary roads.

This is not what rules and mandates are supposed to do. They’re supposed to make us all safer, but as far as we know, so far ELDs and 14-hour clock have not. Jon’s comments and informal talks with OOIDA members indicate they may be doing the opposite. The answer will come with time and credible statistics.

In any case, what the FMCSA has done – with the best of intentions – is to build a kind of digital, electronic cage around truck drivers.

The 14-hour rule was designed to work with ELDs to eliminate any possibility of “cheating.” It’s a perfect mathematical, chronological construct. Or is it?

Both the subject and the context of the FMCSA’s electronic, digital, and metaphorical perfection are anything but. Drivers are the subject; the real world is the context. Both are organic, analog, and unpredictable by nature. In the real world, storms rise up, cars crash, and schedules are no more than hopeful intentions and ardent wishes. Drivers are human beings who may add up to one thing statistically but vary wildly as individuals. For example, sometimes they get drowsy when the FMCSA says they shouldn’t.

So here we have a human being driving a big truck, under pressures we don’t need to describe here, making decisions that are wise at 8 a.m., 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. but turn out to be all wrong by 8 p.m. The smartest, most experienced of us can find ourselves in violation despite all we bring to the game.

For me, at least, it’s hard to imagine a more efficient stress generator. Sometimes, I’m sure, the FMCSA’s digital cage feels more like a psychological trash compactor.

John Bendel

John Bendel is Land Line’s contributing editor-at-large. A former trucker, former editor at National Lampoon, and longtime truck writer, John is an author, photographer, and freelancer for New York Times. There’s more, but in short, his insight and matchless style of writing makes “Gizmos and Gears” a runaway reader favorite.