Through a friend, I recently connected to the team at Trucks.com, a startup trucking publication looking to be "a step above the trade press." It's been interesting to take on stories more in depth than those for a general-audience publication. To compensate though, I've included extra background here.
In this latest piece, I looked into a last-ditch effort by some truck drivers to delay/end the looming deadline of the electronic-logging device (ELD) mandate. Truck driver hours have long been regulated by the government, in terms of the time they can legally be "on duty" before having to take breaks or sleep. Traditionally they recorded this in paper logbooks, but more and more companies have turned to the electronic logging devices, which drivers do not control and have zero wiggle room. Starting Dec. 18, almost all trucks manufactured before 2000 will no longer have the paper option.
Companies I've spoken with admit that the switch between methods cost them some money/efficiency as their drivers had to trip plan differently and adjust to a less forgiving system. On the other hand, many drivers I've spoken to have said that after trying ELDs, they would refuse to switch back to paper logbooks.
Regardless, it's a hot-button issue right now. The industry has been talking about it for years, and an end is in sight. At this point, those against it have turned to social media to voice their concerns, especially in the hope of getting President Trump's attention. If you're still curious, go check out the #ELDorMe thread on Twitter.
Independent truckers are trying to get President Trump’s attention in the hopes that he will halt or delay the pending electronic logging device mandate before its Dec. 18 implementation deadline.
The regulation requires truckers to install devices on trucks manufactured after 2000 that digitally track driving time to make sure they stick to federal driving limits. Some truckers say the issue has made them reconsider their previous support of the president.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has challenged the regulation’s constitutionality but has lost repeated rulings. The U.S. Supreme Court refused in June to hear the association’s appeal of a lower court decision upholding the mandate. That has sparked alternative protest strategies in the hopes of Hail Mary legislative or executive action.
H.R. 3282, a bill authored by GOP Rep. Brian Babin of Texas, that would delay the regulation for two years, is stalled in a House subcommittee. Some drivers want Trump to intervene.
Those against the mandate have made themselves increasingly vocal on social media and in coordinated protests in Washington last month. The ELD or Me Facebook group has about 20,000 members, and a change.org petition to do away with the mandate has more than 30,000 signatures. There’s also an active #ELDorMe on Twitter to gather support from opponents of the regulation.
Drivers want the regulation delayed so that more research involving more interest groups can be done on the potential economic and safety effects of the mandate, said Tony Justice, a driver for Everhart Transportation, who created the ELD or Me group.
“We would just like to be able to have a voice,” he said. “If we’re going to do a mandate, let’s get all ideas together and work together.”
“People say, why didn’t we try to do something seven years ago? I tell people it’s like a hurricane warning,” Justice said. “You don’t really get prepared until it’s about to hit you.”
Twitter is the best way to reach Trump, said Les Willis, who owns two trucking companies in Texas and Arkansas.
“I figure since the president uses Twitter to relay his message to the public, we should use Twitter in the same manner,” he said. “Why shouldn't he listen to us, since we hear him loud and clear?”
Protesters have been using the #ELDorMe Twitter hashtag daily since mid-October “in hopes of keeping our message alive,” Justice said.
But truckers have yet to hear the president’s position on the issue.
Contacted by Trucks.com, a White House communications representative forwarded a request for comment about Trump’s ELD position to the Department of Transportation, which did not respond.
Raymond Martinez, Trump’s nominee for administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said in recent Senate testimony that he would not delay implementation of the ELD regulation.
Drivers who have spoken to several members of Congress worry that conversations are “one-sided” on Capitol Hill.
“The ones we’ve talked to have only been educated on it as a safety issue,” Justice said. “We don’t think the [American Trucking Associations] is showing all the research.”
Chris Spear, the ATA’s chief executive, addressed the issue at the trade group’s annual conference in late October, saying the technology has been adequately vetted.
“This issue has been legislated, promulgated and litigated. It is now time to move forward,” Spear said. “ELD technology removes one’s ability to exceed the legal hours of services, ushering in a safe, efficient and fair playing field for the nation’s trucking industry.”
The group has supported electronic logs since 1999.
Those against the mandate or its timeline have put hopes in Babin’s bill. He previously brought forward an amendment to delay the mandate for a year, which failed in September.
Babin said support for his bill is growing as other representatives hear from their constituents. It has about 60 cosponsors.
“Let me tell you, these truck drivers are letting my colleagues know exactly what this is all about,” he said.
Babin said he is trying to protect small businesses from burdensome regulation. “This is just another thing that is going to hurt the small guy,” he said.
However, industry experts are skeptical of the viability of any legislative delay. The failure of the earlier Babin amendment signaled the “end what is left of the debate on whether or not there is the possibly to delay the mandate,” transport analysts at Stephens Inc. in Little Rock, Ark. said in an industry report.
Analysts Brad Delco and Scott Schoenhaus said the amendment “was likely Congress’s best shot at delaying the mandate given that it was in the form of a rider and could have slid past bipartisan opposition.” A separate bill like H.R. 3282 “would likely not have support in the House as well.”
Spear also dismissed any hopes of delay in his speech.
“Back in Washington, anti-truck and amateur hour advocacy groups believe they know what’s best for our industry,” he said. “This wave of special interests has built a cottage industry fueled by ideology, emotion and misguided narratives … all intended to divide our industry and this association.”
Willis and Justice both expressed frustration that Trump’s public acknowledgement of the industry has only come in the context of events coordinated with the ATA, which they do not believe represents all truck drivers. Notably, they pointed to a March ATA event when Trump met with drivers and executives at the White House and climbed into a semi-truck on the White House lawn, as well as the president’s October speech pitching his tax reform plan to truckers.
Babin said that though it is a “great group,” the ATA “represents the major trucking companies. These are companies that can afford in a much better way to go into this ELD business than somebody with five trucks or less,” he said.
Douglas Hasner, an owner-operator with Landstar Trucking, said he will be forced to stop driving if the mandate goes through.
“I came off the road for five days to make sure I voted for Trump”, he said. But if the mandate goes ahead, it will “absolutely” affect his opinion of the politician. “A man has got to keep his campaign promises.”