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Oregon: ELDs jacking up roadside inspection costs

State supports certification process to reduce unnecessary delays for drivers

Oregon still seeing roadside delays due to ELDs. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Roadside inspection times have doubled in Oregon since the ELD mandate has been in place, increasing administrative costs and dragging down driver productivity, according to state officials.

In comments filed in response to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposal on ways to improve current regulations governing ELDs, Carla Phelps, the Oregon Department of Transportation’s motor carrier enforcement manager, asserted that roadside inspection times have doubled from roughly 30 minutes to more than an hour since full ELD compliance went into effect in 2019.

“The leading cause of this increase lies in the variety of ELDs on the market and the time it takes for inspectors to determine the basic functionality, unique intricacies, and download processes specific to each device presented” at roadside inspections, Phelps stated in her comments.

“Driver familiarity or inexperience with the models installed on their vehicles also affects the time it takes to successfully transfer HOS records. Once all these hurdles are overcome, inspectors must then closely inspect the results for falsifications in various forms and often require very well-trained inspectors to uncover.”

And because Oregon’s truck drivers spend twice as much time going through the roadside inspection process with ELDs, according to Phelps, “truck downtime” costs doubled for drivers and their carriers as well.

Oregon DOT calculated downtime costs of $60 an hour for drivers, combined with $62 an hour for added inspector costs (in terms of salaries), for an estimated cost of $122 an hour per 60-minute inspection. In the 2022 fiscal year ending on Sept. 30, Oregon completed 18,400 inspections. That puts Oregon’s roadside inspection costs at $2.2 million, a doubling of the cost prior to the ELD mandate.

Phelps also noted in her comments that not only do the longer inspection times increase costs, it decreases the number of inspections that can be performed, which raises safety issues. “Larger numbers of uninspected trucks and drivers are operating free of any compliance scrutiny.” 

In its proposal, FMCSA sought comments on establishing a formal certification process for ELDs. Such a process, whether conducted directly by FMCSA or through a third party, would alleviate the cost and driver delay issues, according to Phelps. “If a dynamic certification process is implemented to validate ELDs and their providers, inspection times should begin to drop back down to previous levels,” she maintained.

“A time saving of just 15 minutes per inspection means a production increase of 25%. In Oregon’s case, an additional 4,600 drivers could be inspected annually. Oregon is currently maintaining a [driver out of service] rate of 19%. If inspection times drop, continued maintenance of this rate will translate into an additional 874 non-compliant and potentially high risk drivers being removed from the roads/yr. (at 2022 rates).”

CVSA questions usefulness of third-party certification

Unlike Canada, which requires ELDs to be third-party certified by an accredited organization, the estimated 400 to 500 ELD brands available in the U.S. are allowed to be self-certified by the manufacturer.

But the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), which represents state DOTs and highway patrols that conduct roadside inspections, is not convinced that third-party certification would improve the cost and delay issues that Oregon or other states are experiencing.

“If inspectors are finding drivers with a malfunctioning device, whether or not the device is certified is not going to change the time frame that it takes inspectors to do inspections at roadside,” Kerri Wirachowsky, CVSA’s director of inspection programs, told FreightWaves.

“If drivers are unplugging their ELDs and plugging in another one and attempting to do unidentified driving, or if they’re just unplugging it so they can do other things, then any difficulties currently being experienced at roadside will not change whether there’s a certification process or not.”

Wirachowsky said CVSA plans to file formal comments responding to FMCSA’s proposal shortly. 

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.

John Gallagher

Based in Washington, D.C., John specializes in regulation and legislation affecting all sectors of freight transportation. He has covered rail, trucking and maritime issues since 1993 for a variety of publications based in the U.S. and the U.K. John began business reporting in 1993 at Broadcasting & Cable Magazine. He graduated from Florida State University majoring in English and business.