Truckers Take on Trump Over Electronic Logging Device Rules

Most years, country music and diesel engines make the most noise at the Mid-American Trucking Show. However, in the week since the freight industry’s largest annual event ended, top stories from trucking news sites were about a small Q&A session where a convoy of keyed-up truckers took turns griping at Ray Martinez, the man President Trump just put in charge of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the federal government’s trucking regulator.

“It’s amazing to me how many experts there are in trucking that have never set their butt in a truck,” said one irate driver, quoted in Transport Topics, a trade pub that covered the session. That speaker, and many others, were fed up over a new law requiring every driver digitally track the hours they spend on the road, so regulators can better ensure they’re not spending a minute longer behind the wheel than allowed.

This isn’t just hollering about the surveillance state: The contentious electronic logging device rule has become a focal sore for independent truckers irritated by a rash of related regulations. Chiefly, that the government controls when truckers can, and can’t, be on the road. Supporters of the law say this kind of rhetoric comes from midnight mavericks hoping to snag lucrative, but illegal, overtime hauling. Notably, American Trucking Associations, a trade group representing mostly big trucking conglomerates, supports the law. But some drivers are so fed up over the new ELD rule—which law officers began enforcing this week—they’re threatening to climb out of the cab and throw away the keys.

Big Rig Brother

For all the controversy, an electronic logging device, or ELD, is a fairly bland chunk of tech. Essentially, it’s a flash drive that plugs into a truck engine’s control module to track things like whether the engine is running, the odometer, GPS location, and so on. To inspect a trucker’s logs, a smokey just plugs into the ELD unit. Any trucker found in violation of their Hours of Service gets curbed for 10 hours—a serious penalty in a business where running late is bad news.

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The core premise behind the ELD rule is that sleepy drivers cause accidents. Since 1934, the feds have used Hours of Service laws to limit time spent driving between rest periods. Current rules hold drivers to 14 on-duty hours (only 11 of which can be spent behind the wheel), followed by 10 hours off the clock. Before this week, drivers could keep their Hours of Service logs with pen and paper—a system that many liked because it gave them some wiggle room when the realities of the road made it hard to stay within the rules. Now, with the digital monitor in charge, that’s gone.

What the truckers call wiggle room, regulators call cheating. “What’s happened throughout the whole industry for several decades is drivers falsifying their record of duty logbooks,” says Collin Mooney, executive director of the Commercial Vehicles Safety Alliance, a nonprofit that coordinates truck inspections across North America. Mooney says most of the complaints truckers have against ELDs are motivated by a desire to return to some sort of cowboy heyday of regulation-free trucking. “It really comes down to owner operators looking for anything to get this rule violated,” he says. “They’ll complain about cost, noncompliant devices, Big Brother, you name it.”

To which some truckers reply: yup. “We did cheat our logbooks,” says John Grosvenor, founder of Truckers United for Freedom, a group that argues for better conditions for drivers. “But that’s because the Hours of Service rule doesn’t work.”

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