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Research reveals mixed ELD safety effects

 Photo credit: Jim Allen/Freightwaves
Photo credit: Jim Allen/Freightwaves

Mandating the use of electronic logging devices (ELDs) was aimed ultimately at reducing accidents and improving safety, but new research shows mixed results toward that goal so far.

An academic team led by Alex Scott, assistant professor of supply chain management at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business, analyzed Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) data to assess how enforcement of the ELD rule was affecting three safety-related metrics: compliance with hours of service (HOS); accident counts; and the frequency of unsafe driving.

The results? While HOS compliance – the primary target of the ELD mandate – improved considerably, the study found that there was no decrease in the number of accidents for independent owner-operators and carriers with small fleets. It also found that unsafe driving infractions for small companies and owner-operators actually increased relative to large asset-based carriers.

“Speeding tickets went up for the smaller guys, and this would make sense given the evidence that productivity has been reduced due to the mandate – which means drivers have had to try to work faster,” Scott told FreightWaves.

A former engineer at J.B. Hunt and Kenco Logistics, Scott and co-authors Andrew Balthrop and Jason Miller combined data from “millions of driver inspections” as well as “all federally recordable crashes” from January 2017 to September 2018 to assess the effectiveness of the rule, which became enforceable in separate stages in December 2017 and April 2018.

“The rule was controversial, with the smaller guys fighting it vigorously, so I was interested to see whether it actually reduced accidents,” Scott said. He noted that his study was completed earlier this month and is currently being reviewed for publication in a scholarly journal.

When contacted by FreightWaves, an FMCSA official said the agency hadn’t seen the study and therefore couldn’t comment, particularly regarding unsafe driving infractions and accident results. FMCSA’s website does track HOS compliance, however, and shows the percentage of driver inspections with at least one HOS violation falling from 1.19 percent in December 2017 to .52 percent in November 2018.

Aside from safety levels, a drop in productivity as a result of the ELD mandate has been a significant issue for both large and small carriers – although there’s evidence that drivers that effectively manage their hours post-ELD have been able to generate increased profits.

For smaller carriers that risk unsafe driving in an attempt to compete for freight, Scott suggested that FMCSA, as it contemplates changes to HOS, consider increasing flexibility in the regulation to reduce the advantage that large carriers with drop-and-hook operations have over smaller carriers that can’t afford to keep trailer pools at their customers’ facilities.

“Increased flexibility would decrease the negative impact of delays at loading and unloading facilities for small carriers who must wait to be live loaded or unloaded,” Scott said. “We suggest this as an area for future study.”

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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.