Has the ELD Mandate Reduced HOS Violations?
As far back as the 1930s, studies have shown that hours-of-service issues are the leading cause of driver fatigue and therefore commercial trucking accidents. Trucking accident attorneys and other industry analysts have long argued in favor of electronic logs in to ensure greater degrees of veracity and accuracy. In 2015, the FMCSA updated its trucking regulations to require an electronic logging device in most commercial trucks.
What Is the Electronic Logging Device Mandate?
Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century—called MAP-21 for short—was enacted in 2012. MAP-21 is a large piece of legislature designed to improve the transportation industry within the U.S. This act has many components, including the ELD rule. The purpose of the ELD rule was to ensure that all professional truck drivers were using electronic logging devices—as opposed to maintaining logbooks manually—by 2020. The goal here was to reduce HOS violations and fatigue-related accidents. Proponents also hoped that better data tracking would eventually allow for the HOS rules to be refined in that they could better serve drivers and carriers while still maintaining higher levels of safety.
What Are HOS Violations?
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has the power to establish, update and enforce hours-of-service rules. Such rules are a legal requirement and set parameters for how often truckers can work. These rules help ensure that commercial truck operators do not make profit-motivated decisions that put themselves and the public in danger. These regulations also safeguard employees and contractors from being exploited by the companies they work for. Breaking an HOS rule is against the law, and an HOS violation has consequences for the driver and, if applicable, the transport company. Common violations include:
- Not taking a 30-minute break
- Exceeding the 11- and 14-hour driving limits
- Fewer than 10 consecutive hours of off-duty time
- Working too many hours in a seven- or eight-day period
Professional truck drivers are allowed to work either 60 hours in a seven-day period or 70 hours in an eight-day period. The period is not predefined prior to the workweek but fluid so that the driver can opt for the most beneficial period, which may not be clear until after the week begins to unfold. There is a 14-hour clock during which drivers can operate their vehicles for 11 hours total. During that 14-hour period and before 8 hours is reached, a 30-minute break is mandated. Drivers can reset their 14-hour clocks by going off duty and remaining off duty for at least 10 consecutive hours. Those are the core rules. However, there are ancillary rules that allow for other ways to reset the clock, multitasking during the break period and so forth.
Which Violations Are Less Common in the Electronic Logging Device Mandate Era?
One of the arguments in favor of the ELD rule was that it would effectively eliminate some HOS violations that had been common during the era of manual logs. These include:
- Missing logs violations
- Falsification of records
- Forms and manner violations
Forms and manner violations were often a point of contention for truck drivers since there were many rules concerning which data had to be recorded and how. Further exacerbating the issue was that requirements were often changing, which led to confusion among drivers. ELDs, on the other hand, record all necessary data in a consistent manner, and if changes are required, it can be rolled out as a software update. With ELDs, falsification of records is nearly impossible and not very practical, and loss of paperwork is not relevant either. Even in the case of truckers who use ELD apps and lose their smartphones, the data is being uploaded to the cloud as it is collected and can be retrieved from there.
What Are the Penalties for HOS Violations?
When drivers are caught in violation of their hours allowed, they will almost certainly be placed out of service until the off-time requirements are met. This can even result in the vehicle being impounded. All truck drivers and carriers are assigned a CSA score. CSA is an acronym for compliance, safety and accountability. Violations have points assigned to them, and those points are deducted from the CSA score. Serious infractions also have fines and other penalties associated with them. Even minor infractions can become serious if repeated because at a certain CSA score threshold, a review will be triggered that can result in additional fines, suspension or loss of license and even jail time.
How Do Drivers Get Caught?
The most common way that drivers are caught is through mandated weigh stations. As a driver enters a weigh station, a Department of Transportation inspector will pull up information about the vehicle and driver on a handheld device. In most cases, drivers get waived through to the scales, but there is a scoring system to ensure drivers and vehicles are inspected on a regular basis. If drivers who are in violation get flagged, they will get caught. There is no way around it due to the ELD data. Once a driver is caught in this manner, future inspections are more likely, which results in a loss of time for the driver.
Even drivers who get lucky may eventually be caught if the DOT performs an audit of the carrier. Carriers will self-audit as well and are legally required to report violations to the DOT. Drivers can also be pulled over by police. If a police officer suspects driver fatigue, he or she can pull data from the ELD and has full authority to put the driver out of service and take other measures.
Are There Exemptions?
There are exemptions. Weather and other emergencies can allow a driver to extend the 11-hour maximum to 16 hours. Operators within a 150 air-mile radius of their home base can skip the 30-minute break, and there can be temporary exemptions, such as those afforded to the truck drivers delivering medical and other supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Are There Criticisms of the Electronic Logging Device Mandate?
Yes. Many of the rules governing truck drivers were implemented during a time when manual bookkeeping was permissible. The ELD mandate exposed some impractical aspects of older HOS rules that drivers overcame by fudging. However, new HOS regulations went into effect September 19, 2020, aimed at providing truckers greater flexibility in this regard.
Has Electronic Logs Led to Few HOS Violations?
The ELD mandate became law on February 16, 2016. Compliance was required by December 18, 2017, and, in some cases, full compliance was not required until December 16, 2019. More time may be needed to answer this question with a great degree of certainty, and the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 has presented new challenges. Nevertheless, in June 2018—more than six months prior to the compliance deadline—the FMCSA reported a significant drop in violations in each month since hard enforcement had begun.
The Local Legal Assistance You Need
Hours-of-service rules are not only designed to keep truck drivers safe but also the people who share the road with them. The vast majority of carriers adhere to these requirements and do their best to protect themselves and other motorists. But mistakes do happen and perhaps even more so in these trying times. If you or a loved one has been involved in an accident with a commercial vehicle, RAM Law would like to help. We can provide a trucking accident attorney to review your case at no cost and without obligation. To schedule your free consultation, contact us online or call our New Brunswick or Sommerville offices at (732) 394-1549.