WASHINGTON — Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Highways and Transit Subcommittee, Tuesday introduced legislation that would provide for a two-year delay before mandatory implementation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s electronic logging device mandate now set for implementation December 18.
The text of Babin’s bill, titled the ELD Extension Act of 2017, is short, simply amending to four years from two the time between when the ELD final rule was published and the compliance date.
Babin’s action comes one day after the House Appropriations Committee passed the FY2018 Departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill that included language that itself has the potential to delay implementation of the ELD rule.
“While technology such as ELDs have great promise, I didn’t come to Washington to force those ideas on small businesses — and neither did President [Donald] Trump,” Babin said. “If trucking companies want to continue implementing and using ELDs, they should go right ahead. But for those who don’t want the burden, expense and uncertainty of putting one of these devices into every truck they own by the end of the year, we can and should offer relief.”
The news released in which Babin formally announced he’d introduced the bill was a quote from Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which has vigorously opposed required use of ELDs.
An OOIDA spokesperson said the association worked with Babin to compose the legislation.
“While the mandate was crafted with the good intention of modernizing America’s freight truck network and helping truckers and their employers comply with Hours of Service and other regulations, it is now abundantly clear that more time is needed, especially for small trucking companies and independent drivers who will be disproportionally affected by the cost of compliance with these new rules, Babin’s news release said.
“We appreciate Congressman Babin’s leadership on this issue,” Spencer was quoted in the news release. “While we still believe the ELD mandate should be outright repealed, the FMCSA simply isn’t ready to implement this rule. Congressman Babin’s bill would provide more time for the agency to address a number of significant unresolved concerns identified by stakeholders.”
For either Babin’s bill or the ELD language in the FY2018 THUD bill to survive all the way to the president’s desk, is highly questionable, especially given the fact that Congress itself mandated the use of ELDs when it passed the MAP-21 transportation bill in 2012, and given the number of hurdles such legislation would have to clear.
Babin, a dentist by trade, said in his news release that he was not part of the House in 2012.
Babin’s bill was referred to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
In its bill, the House Appropriations Committee addressed what it calls “regulatory compliance burdens on small and independent carriers” and points directly to the ELD rule, which the committee says will cost $2 billion to implement.
Not only does the bill address the cost, it also points to concerns that small carriers are delaying purchase of ELDs until they can make sure the devices are compliant with the technical aspects of the rule as published by FMCSA.
“In light of the heavy burden of this mandate, especially on small carriers, the committee directs the Department [of Transportation] to analyze whether a full or targeted delay in ELD implementation and enforcement would be appropriate and, if so, what options DOT has within its statutory authority to provide temporary regulatory relief until all ELD implementation challenges can be resolved,” the bill reads. “FMCSA shall provide a report on its findings to the House and Senate committees.”
An FMCSA spokesman said the agency doesn’t comment on pending legislation.
The American Trucking Associations, a proponent of ELDs, expressed dismay at the appropriations bill.
“ATA is disappointed that this misguided provision was included in this version of the FY 2018 THUD appropriations bill. It would take a step to potentially weaken the electronic logging device mandate due to go into effect this year. This is a nakedly transparent effort by opponents of ELDs to chip away at a rule that will ensure compliance with HOS and improve safety," said ATA Executive Vice President of Advocacy Bill Sullivan. “We will work to ensure members are educated about the difference between the existing HOS rules and the basics of logging, whether electronically or on paper. As this appropriations bill moves to the House floor and through the Senate, we believe that members in the Senate or in conference will not support this language becoming law. ATA is committed to helping FMCSA as it moves toward meeting the December implementation deadline for this critical safety rule.”
“Clearly, members of Congress have heard concerns about the mandate from their constituents,” Spencer said the day after the appropriations bill cleared the committee. “The agency has failed to answer important questions from Congress and industry stakeholders about this mandate. This includes issues related to enforcement, connectivity, data transfers, cybersecurity vulnerabilities, and many other legitimate real-world concerns. The agency refuses to certify any ELD as compliant with the rule, thus leaving consumers with no idea if a device they purchase is indeed compliant.” He was referring to the self-certification form on the FMCSA website.
The Trucking Alliance, which is made up of eight motor carriers, also criticized the legislation
“There’s no valid reason to delay this much-needed truck safety measure,” Trucking Alliance President Steve Williams and Vice President Kevin Knight said in a joint statement. “In fact, the FMCSA is doing an admirable job to meet the timeline by December 18.”
Williams is chairman and CEO of Maverick Transportation in Little Rock, Arkansas; Knight is executive chairman of Knight Transportation in Phoenix.
ELDs will save lives, the statement said.
“The FMCSA has evaluated the inherent safety benefits that accrue to carriers that utilize ELDs — an 11.7 percent reduction in crash rates and a 50 percent reduction in HOS violations. Further, the agency estimates that after ELDs are fully installed in all interstate commercial trucks, 1,844 large truck crashes will be avoided, reducing hundreds of injuries and saving the lives of at least 26 people each year,” the Williams and Knight said.
“The ELD rule will improve highway safety and lower the number of large truck accidents. Further, the ELDs will enable both trucking companies and their drivers to proudly demonstrate their enviable work ethics, but within the legal framework of federal HOS rules. Industrywide compliance will ensure that the nation’s commercial truck drivers are rested, safer and more secure in their jobs.
“In conclusion, the ELD rule is one of several current safety reforms that must be adopted to reduce large truck accidents, injuries and fatalities. Our industry shares the highways with millions of people each day. We must keep the public’s trust by ensuring the public that commercial drivers are properly trained, rested, drug and alcohol free and compliant with the law. The ELD rule is critical to achieving that goal.”
Meanwhile, an industry report on transportation and trucking issued by Stephens Inc. of Little Rock, Arkansas, one of the largest U.S. investment banking firms off Wall Street, urges industry investors not to “freak out; it’s just a consideration to delay.”
Stephens analysts took issue with the appropriations committee’s statement concerning ELDs being a financial burden to small carriers.
“It is our opinion that this argument is … overstated,” Stephens said. “It is our view that all carriers strictly abiding by the same rules and thus on a level playing field without the ability to falsify logbooks … should result in a more rational pricing environment. We believe that the overall pricing environment and ultimately the rates earned per mile, will increase utilization capacity that is currently running illegally is forced to either (1) come into compliance or (2) exit the industry all together.”
Stephens also pointed to an FMCSA estimate that drivers using ELDs could save some 20 hours a year on paperwork.
The House committee says while it acknowledges the importance of ensuring the safety of truckers and the rest of the driving public, new regulations must be implemented and enforced in a way that is mindful of the thousands of small businesses that bear the cost of compliance.
“For example, the ELD mandate is projected to cost over $2 billion to implement, making it one of the most expensive of all transportation rulemakings advanced under the previous administration,” the committee said in its bill. “While large carriers already deploy similar technologies for fleet management, smaller carriers will disproportionately bear new costs associated with the mandate and with no compensating benefit to their bottom line.
“The committee is concerned by reports of serious complications associated with implementation. Many significant technological concerns remain unresolved, including certification of devices, connectivity problems in remote locations, cyber vulnerabilities, and the ability of law enforcement to access data. Further, there are several industries such as carriers of livestock, insects, and other agricultural products that operate under a complex array of HOS exemptions due to the nature of their business and concerns remain as to whether the technology can process these exemptions.
“As a consequence, many carriers have delayed purchase and installation of ELDs until they can be certain the technology will be compliant. The committee directs FMCSA to review ELD manufacturers’ technology platforms to confirm that devices not only meet standards and specifications necessary for all affected industries and fleet sizes to be compliant but also provide a user interface that is reasonably easy to navigate.”