WASHINGTON — In joint comments submitted Thursday to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) and the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security (Trucking Alliance) warned that an exemption request filed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association would gut the long-settled electronic logging device rule by allowing nearly all trucking companies to delay compliance.
OODIA’s request for a five-year exemption to the ELD rule is a transparent attempt to bypass Congress and the courts by regurgitating discredited arguments which seek to advance special interests at the expense of road safety for all motorists, the two organizations said in their comments.
The Small Business Administration defines a small business as one having less than $27.5 million revenue annually.
“OOIDA, as an organization, asserts that it represents 160,000 members who operate 240,000 heavy trucks, yet the application seeks exemption for a far larger class of motor carriers, i.e., all those considered to be a small transportation trucking business as defined by the SBA regulations,” the comments said.
“OOIDA states in the application that it acknowledges that 99 percent of the motor carriers that FMCSA regulates are considered small entities under SBA’s definition. Thus, the applicant seeks this exemption for an unknown number of motor carriers that could amount to 99 percent of all motor carriers to which the ELD rule applies. This is an unreasonable and overly broad application that is aimed at gutting the ELD regulation rather than proposing an alternative means of compliance and, as such, is an inappropriate use of the exemption process and should be rejected on this basis alone.”
“Small-business truckers that have already proven their ability to operate safely should not be subject to purchasing costly, unproven and uncertified devices,” said Todd Spencer, acting president of OOIDA said when the application was filed in November.
While the requirement that each motor carrier be able to document its safety record and have no at-fault crashes on its record might appear to have merit, this caveat imposes an unreasonable practical problem, the commenters said, adding that the OOIDA application seeks a five-year exemption for each motor carrier in the class now, before each motor carrier in the class submits such documentation.
“The FMCSA would have to determine the status of nearly 500,000 active motor carriers before granting the exemption, and then determine whether the exemption for each small motor carrier would have to be revoked should it be involved in an at-fault crash during the five-year pendency of the exemption,” the comments said. “This would require the agency to screen all motor carriers before granting the exemption in order to determine which motor carriers are in the exempt class. The agency would then have to identify for state law enforcement officials which motor carriers are legally exempt from ELD installation. Moreover, it would also impose a continuing burden on the agency to constantly monitor and update the entire small motor carrier fleet on a regular basis.”
The ELD rule, which was issued by FMCSA in 2015 and took effect on December 18, 2017, requires trucks to have an ELD that tracks a driver’s on-duty time. In addition to being mandated by Congress as part of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21, P.L. 112-141), the rule was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 2016. It also has the support of law enforcement, public health and safety groups, truck drivers, and trucking companies.
Advocates and the Trucking Alliance said ELDs are a proven technological fix to the rampant problem of falsified paper logbooks, also known as “comic books” in the trucking industry because of how easily they can be manipulated and falsified. These simple devices create an objective record of a driver’s on-duty time, facilitate compliance with hours of service rules, and simplify enforcement efforts by law enforcement officials, they said.
Further, the organizations said, ELDs are a known remedy for the well-documented public safety hazard of driver fatigue. Truck drivers are particularly prone to fatigue because of their long shifts and lack of regular sleep.
The National Transportation Safety Board has issued repeated warnings that driver fatigue is a significant contributor to truck crashes and included efforts to curb fatigue-related crashes in its 2017/2018 Most Wanted List of safety changes. The FMCSA has also estimated that each year, mandating the use of ELDs will prevent over 1,800 crashes.
“More than 4,300 people were killed in large truck crashes in 2016, representing a five percent increase from the previous year and the highest fatality number since 2007. Especially with truck crash deaths rising, this minimal, proven, effective technology should be in use in every truck immediately,” said Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. “OOIDA’s exemption request is just a smokescreen that attempts to re-litigate a closed case and undermine the effectiveness of the ELD rule.”
Lane Kidd, managing director of the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security, said, “When it comes down to whether this or that segment of the trucking industry should abide by rules that can reduce large truck crashes, the government should have one standard and that is ‘a truck is a truck is a truck.’ We shouldn’t allow outliers to skirt public safety regulations. Trucking companies have a moral and ethical responsibility to keep the public’s trust, that they are operating as safely as possible, and ELDs are a huge step in achieving that objective.”
Advocates and the Trucking Alliance have been strong, early supporters of requiring ELDs in all trucks and of the ELD rule.
“OOIDA’s exemption application, as well as the seven others submitted to the FMCSA, are largely based on debunked claims that have been previously rejected during the legislative and rulemaking processes. ELDs are a commonsense, lifesaving technology and any attempts to bow to special interests and delay full enforcement of the ELD rule would only make our roads more dangerous,” the organizations concluded in their comments.