WASHINGTON — With the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate less than three weeks away, The U.S. House Committee on Small Business met Wednesday for a hearing titled, “Highway to Headache: Federal Regulations on the Small Trucking Industry.”
While the title was a bit broad, there was no doubt that the topic of the hearing was ELDs, specifically the argument that the rule set down by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requiring most long-haul truckers use ELDS as of December 18 places an unfair burden on small carriers.
The meeting followed an emergency petition sent a day earlier from the Small Business in Transportation Coalition (SBTC) to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao requesting an exemption to the ELD mandate for all motor carriers with fewer than 50 employees.
In the letter, the SBTC made the argument that by insisting that logs be kept electronically and no longer allowing paper logs, the mandate infringes on drivers’ First Amendment rights to commercial free speech. The petition also makes the argument that the wording of the rule only requires motor vehicles to be equipped with ELDs but does not specify that drivers must only use ELDs.
The petition requests that the FMCSA reconsider its interpretation of the ELD rule and that a stay be issued on December 18 deadline until Chao rules on the petition.
Appearing before the committee were Monte Wiederhold, president of B.L. Reever Transport, on behalf of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association; Marty DiGiacomo, owner of True Blue Transportation, testifying on behalf of the National Association of Small Trucking Companies; Stephen Pelkey, chief executive officer of Atlas PyroVision Entertainment Group Inc., representing the American Pyrotechnics Association; and Robert Garbini, president of the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association.
Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, opened the meeting by saying the purpose of the meeting was to examine how federal regulations affect small businesses in the trucking industry.
“Our witnesses today will provide real examples of what it’s like for small business to navigate the confusing regulatory landscape,” Chabot said.
Several issues were touched upon during the discourse, including Hours of Service, driver training requirements, infrastructure spending, traffic congestion, speed limiters, safety ratings, sleep apnea screenings, greenhouse gas emission standards, the truck parking shortage and the driver shortage.
But it was clearly understood that ELDs were the topic of the day, and the conversation never strayed for long.
There was no mention of the SBTC petition, nor was the free speech question repeated, and no one specifically called for an exemption for fleets of 50 or fewer.
“We’re not looking for any kind of advantage, Wiederhold said, “like we want the rules to apply to the big guys but not to us.”
Instead, all four repeatedly referred to the inherent unfairness and impracticality of “one-size-fits-all” regulations on small carriers.
Garbini and Pelkey pointed out that in their industries, the employees who drive also perform other functions. Driving is just a small component of what they do and only takes up a small portion of their working hours, they said.
“There’s got to be a greater examination to give relief to some of these situations,” Garbini said, adding that the FMCSA needs to working with small businesses to come up with rules that make sense to everyone.
Pelkey said the fireworks industry gets an exemption to HOS rules during an 11-day window around the Fourth of July, when they do the majority of their business for the year. He contended that using an ELD would in effect revoke that exemption. And if a driver, who may only drive three days out of the year during that busy season were to commit a violation, it could jeopardize the company’s hazardous materials safety permit, which would put them out of business.
“We’re handed regulations, and then told ‘deal with it,’” Pelkey said. “Dealing with it, you tend to make mistakes. You’re trying to comply and trying to figure out how to comply.”
But too often, despite your best efforts, he added, you don’t get it right “and there you go, a $2,500 fine, better luck next time.”
Cost was another recurring theme, the relative hardship the cost of ELDs represents to a mom-and-pop operation compared to large operators.
“I think I got a real good pulse on a lot of trucking companies, some that I brokered load to just this week, that are pleading, ‘stop this ELD mandate,’” DiGiacomo said.
DiGiacomo questioned why, if safety is the main reason for mandating ELDs, that it needs to be a blanket mandate.
“You’ve got all these drivers with millions and millions of miles,” he said. “How is ELD regulation going to make them any safer?”
Even the FMCSA says there is only a small percentage of carriers that are egregious HOS violators. It’s like if you had a town that had a couple of habitual drunk drivers, DiGiacomo said. Put Breathalyzers in their cars, why put them in everyone’s?
At the top of the meeting, Chabot said: “There may be differences of opinion from some organizations on some of the regulations that will be discussed on today’s hearing, particularly from the American Trucking Associations,” (ATA) and he invited them to submit a statement to be added to the record.
Soon after, the ATA released a response from Collin Stewart, president of Stewart Transport Inc., on behalf of the ATA. To voew the letter, click here
Committee member Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., submitted another letter of opposition to delaying the ELD mandate, endorsed by several organizations including the leaders of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the National Safety Council, Road Safe America and others, as well as several survivors of truck crash victims, citing driver fatigue as a leading cause of truck crashes.