WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has acknowledged that it cannot confirm whether or not the ELD mandate is improving safety.
That acknowledgement came in the “Electronic Logging Devices Oversight Report,” submitted this week by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as required by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law in 2021.
In addition to analyzing the cost and effectiveness of the mandate, the report is required to show how the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which oversees ELD enforcement, reviews ELD driver logs and protects truck drivers’ personally identifiable information, as well as explain how drivers can challenge ELD violations issued by FMCSA.
Early comparisons show the ELD mandate has been effective in reducing hours-of-service (HOS) violations, but recent events are challenging regulators to fully assess the mandate’s safety impacts, according to the report.
For example, the report notes that during the two-year period from the initial compliance date of December 18, 2017, to the full compliance phase that began Dec. 17, 2019, adherence by truckers to daily and weekly HOS limits improved.
Specifically, 1.19% of driver inspections cited at least one HOS violation in December 2017. By December 2021, that percentage had decreased to approximately 0.77%. “Increased compliance with the HOS rules reduces the risks of fatigue-related crashes attributable, in whole or in part, to patterns of violations of the HOS rules,” the report asserted.
However, more recently, “multiple events” have affected the use of ELDs, as well as safety and HOS enforcement.
“Such factors include the September 2020 implementation of new HOS regulations, HOS exemptions issued in response to the COVID-19 pandemic (which suspended HOS rules for carriers transporting specified commodities in support of relief efforts during the pandemic), and the implementation of FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse,” the report states.
“These confounding factors have increased the challenges relating to any further analysis of the ELD mandate, making it difficult to tease out their individual safety impacts.”
Safety concerns post-mandate
Last month the FMCSA declined to comment on whether the rule has improved safety, although recent data compiled by the agency revealed that the percentage of drivers with speeding violations slightly increased from 4.45% in 2018 to 5.07% through 2023.
In addition, fatal crashes involving a large truck increased by 5.4% from 2016 to 2020, according to the most recent federal data, with the rate seeing a “crisis” level 13% increase between 2020 and 2021, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. And a 2019 study found that unsafe driving activities increased as a result of ELD enforcement.
Time savings as benefit
The report outlines several positive outcomes of the mandate, pointing out that ELD data transfer helps carriers by making it faster and easier to store and provide documentation required during a safety investigation. ELDs also make it easier for FMCSA and state enforcement agencies to identify records that have been falsified and to take action on them.
“Due to the efficiency of using ELDs to review HOS, safety officials spend less time reviewing RODS [records of duty status], freeing them up to focus on other safety and enforcement matters,” the report states.
It also contends that the anti-harassment provisions of the ELD rule — and ELDs themselves — “improve safety and help prevent harassment of drivers by making it difficult for drivers and carriers to falsify drivers’ duty status, or force drivers to drive while fatigued or over hours, resulting in fewer violations of the HOS rules.”
Also, the report states that drivers have reported ELDs have prevented dispatchers from “encouraging or forcing them to commit HOS violations” and that drivers paid by the mile — the majority of over-the-road drivers — say improved documentation that comes with ELDs helps reduce paycheck errors.
Costs align with estimates
When the 500-page final rule was issued in December 2015, FMCSA estimated several costs associated with it, including the cost to purchase ELDs and the cost savings that would come from using them.
“To date, FMCSA’s knowledge of ELD costs and benefits aligns with these estimates,” according to the report.
It notes that ELD costs “vary greatly by provider, type of device, service options, and whether additional fleet management capabilities, beyond the ELD functionality required by the regulations, are included. At the low end of the cost spectrum, some devices are available at no initial cost to motor carriers and require a low-cost monthly subscription (a few dollars per month), while others can be purchased outright and require no subscription for a basic ELD with minimal functionality.”
The final rule estimated the annual cost for ELDs that use cellular telematics (the ability to transfer HOS data remotely) to be $419. For ELDs that rely on local transfer (through Bluetooth, for example) the annual cost was estimated to be $166 due to their limited functionality, rather than reduced manufacturing or component costs.
Reduced paperwork and recordkeeping burdens associated with ELDs had been estimated at $809 in annual paperwork savings per driver.
‘A+’ for security
The report outlines steps that FMCSA has taken to ensure that proprietary ELD information it receives is kept secure and private.
It states that the agency’s ELD Submission Web service received an “A+” grade from the Qualys Secure Sockets Layer Labs SSL server test, “which performs a deep analysis of the configuration of SSL web servers on the internet.” The test was last conducted the week of Feb. 21, 2022.
The report also outlines steps carriers and drivers can take if they believe certain ELD data is incomplete or incorrect by initiating a review using FMCSA’s DataQ web system. It notes, however, that FMCSA cannot correct information associated with ELD records stored in a carrier’s information systems. “A driver would need to work with their motor carrier employer to correct any discrepancies in the motor carrier’s system.”
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