Will ELDs lead to greater highway danger, worsen “driver shortage,” halt civilization?

This is ELD deadline week, and the sky is falling. Or maybe it already fell. Is it the end of the world as we know it? (photo: Shutterstock)

This is ELD deadline week, and the sky is falling. Or maybe it already fell. Is it the end of the world as we know it? (photo: Shutterstock)

In the recent frenzy, Freightwaves broke through to a VP of a long-haul carrier, and an owner-operator driver with questions we’ve been wondering ourselves

This is ELD deadline week, and the sky is falling. Or maybe it already fell. Is it the end of the world as we know it?

The succession of legislative attempts to halt—or really just delay the bill—fell short. What could they really say against the wave of technological overhaul that’s sweeping the industry?

And really, this ELD thing will be good news. Why? Because it’s healthy for an industry to get “up to speed” with technology, especially when that tech keeps things transparent, documented, and one that will eventually—probably—prove fair.

Just like an apparently “even” trade between two baseball teams, time will tell.

No doubt, there will be short-term losers. And that’s where the best arguments and the “fairness” come into question: the smaller carriers will be hit first and hardest, putting some out of business, and the new regulation certainly doesn’t appear to help the driver shortage problem—however one defines “shortage.”

So, what’s left to talk about? Plenty, if on-boarding a new and wide-ranging national transport system makes for a story.

And there are many lingering questions. Do we really need more regulation? And who are the regulators really looking out for?

There also remain plenty of other unresolved issues. Just yesterday, ELD suppliers, such as KeepTruckinOmnitracsBigRoad, and One20, saw massive spikes in usage and service calls.

And that’s not the end of the story by any means. According to the most recent Stifel report, the top five unresolved ELD issues are:

1. Visibility at Roadside

2. ELD Malfunctions and Data Diagnostic Events

3. Personal Conveyance / Yard Moves

4. Form and Manner

5. Instruction Card / Supply of Blank RODS

Don’t even worry about what each of those top five things means. Each issue accompanies a series of mind-numbing clarifications and descriptions.

We’re in the first stages of growing pains. A whole new learning curve, and everyone better get used to it. After years of legislation and slowly moving toward a technologically more advanced system, it’s not likely to return to old-fashioned paper and pencils. You can’t let the genie out of the bottle.

To get a little perspective, Freightwaves spoke with Ed Kern, Vice President of Pricing and Network Strategy at Covenant Transportation Group, a larger, mostly long-haul carrier.

“ELDs really shouldn’t be a problem. A lot just don’t do it because they weren’t playing by the rules in the first place,” says Kern.

In the short term ELDs very likely will shrink the capacity of drivers who just don’t want to deal with it. At the same time, it’s sure to benefit the larger carriers, such as Covenant, who already have systems in place and have been playing by the rules all along.

Kern doesn’t agree with the drivers who argue the ELDs are too inflexible and will force drivers to drive when they’re tired. “Speeding may be an issue,” he says. “But owner-operators who already implement governors [the ability to halt gas intake in an engine at a certain speed] shouldn’t worry.”

According to Kern, most, or at least many, carriers use a governor system to maximize fuel efficiency, and also for insurance reasons. “A single crash can result in a multi-million dollar claim.”

As for dealing with the driver shortage issue, Kern says the industry will adjust and realize we need to pay drivers more money. “We also need to address the lifestyle issues, and treat them with the respect they deserve.”

Freightwaves also spoke with driver, Jeff Clark, who was driving out of a congested Chicago evening traffic at the time. Clark is a veteran driver with 29 years under his belt, 16 of them as an owner-operator.

“The ELDs don’t force you to do anything,” he says. “I’ve been using them for five years now, and the only difference is that I’m better rested.” One thing ELDs do force a driver to do is actually take that ten-hour break.

As for speeding, Clark agrees that some drivers probably will. “I’m most efficient at 62-63 miles per hour, so that’s where I tend to run. Sometimes, though, I might have to get it up to 68-70 if I need to make the run.”

Clark doesn’t buy the driver shortage thing. “It’s crap,” he says. “It’s economic-based. We need about 3.5 million drivers. We attract about 500,000 a year, but we don’t keep them.”

Clark does believe that ELDs will tighten the supply of drivers in the short-term, but before we see drivers' rates go up, he thinks something else will have to give. “Efficiency needs to increase. When it starts costing the docks they’ll get more efficient. That will be the first change to come. Why? Because it’s cheaper than paying drivers more.”

As for ELDs, Clark says, “At first you get a little obsessed with it, but then you get used to it.” It can actually be helpful at times too, keeping drivers focused on their stats, efficiency and schedule. “I think in a year no one will be talking about this.”

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