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Study questions whether FMCSA’s ELD mandate for truckers ‘has improved safety’

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Photo: Missouri Department of Transportation Flickr

East Lansing, MI — The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s mandate on the use of electronic logging devices to record commercial motor vehicle driver hours of service “did not immediately achieve its goal of reducing accidents,” and may be linked to increases in unsafe driving behaviors and crashes, results of a recent study suggest.

The mandate took effect in December 2017. On April 1, 2018, inspectors were permitted to begin placing CMV drivers out of service for operating without ELDs, which are used in place of manual paper logs to track HOS.

Researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Arkansas analyzed data from about 4 million roadside inspections and all federally recordable crashes between Jan. 1, 2017, and Sept. 1, 2018. Although the mandate triggered significant improvement in driver compliance with reporting HOS, especially among smaller fleets, findings show that the number of incidents increased after the mandate went into effect.

For independent owner-operators, incidents climbed 11.6%, while fleets employing between two and 20 trucks experienced a 9% increase. The researchers also report an increase in violations for unsafe driver behaviors – including speeding, frequent lane changes, following too closely and hard braking – in conjunction with the mandate.

“These results call into question whether increased electronic monitoring has improved safety in this industry,” the researchers write.

After publishing the final rule in December 2015, FMCSA estimated the mandate would help prevent 1,844 crashes, 562 injuries and 26 fatalities each year.

“Drivers have reacted in ways the FMCSA has not fully anticipated, and these behaviors should be accounted for as the FMCSA revisits their hours-of-service policies,” Andrew Balthrop, study co-author and research associate at UA, said in a press release.

“Surprisingly, the number of accidents for the most affected carriers – those operators for whom the federal mandate was intended – did not decrease. In fact, following the implementation of the mandate, accidents among small carriers and independent owner-operators increased, relative to large asset-based carriers.”

 

ELDs record – at frequent intervals – vehicle information such as date, time, location, engine hours and miles, as well as identification information for the driver, vehicle and motor carrier.

Proponents of the mandate contend that relying on ELDs rather than paper logs to track HOS improves safety and efficiency. Opponents claim the rule violates drivers’ Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure and lacks concrete evidence that it increases safety.

CMV drivers must carry four items as part of the mandate:

  • A user’s manual that describes how to operate the ELD
  • A sheet listing step-by-step instructions on producing and transferring HOS records to an authorized safety official
  • A sheet that outlines ELD malfunction reporting requirements and protocol for maintaining records during such incidences
  • At least eight days’ worth of blank grids to chart record of duty status reports

The study was published in the March issue of the Journal of Operations Management.

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