By Matthew Wrobel, Foley Carrier Services
Say hello to e-logs. They are (one of) this year’s big new regulatory developments. While the name “e-logs” may be new, the basic idea of electronic logging has been floated around a lot over the past few years.
And that is the important thing to remember throughout the upcoming debate over e-logs. In certain (vocal) parts of the industry, the concept is very popular (and in fact widely used). The fact is that, in one form or another, it is almost inevitable that the e-log will become mandatory.
The Rulemaking Process
The rulemaking process is hardly a quick affair. When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) needs to enact a new rule or change an existing one, they are required to go through a certain process. The normal order of events is:
1. Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM)
2. Commenting Period
3. (Optional) Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (If the comments required making changes)
4. Final Rule Published
5. Implementation Period
6. Rules go into effect
The process can take a very long time. In the ongoing hours of service debate, it has taken the better part of a decade. At every step, the rules can be challenged in court and thrown out. If enough time goes by, Congress can get involved and rewrite laws, requiring FMCSA to draft new rules in response.
The entire process is democracy at its best (and messiest), with an end result typically being a rule that balances the interests of all affected parties. In reality, that means that some people get more of what they want, and some people lose out.
The Transportation Industry
In the transportation industry, the three big players are Large Motor Carriers, Small Motor Carriers and Safety Advocates. On the e-logging issue, it is fair to say that the Large Motor Carriers and the Safety Advocates are getting much more of what they want compared to the Small Motor Carriers.
But if you are a Small Motor Carrier or an owner-operator, you shouldn’t despair.
The Safety Advocates want to improve safety in and around trucks. They believe that by better tracking the hours that drivers are working, FMCSA will be able to catch those that cheat on the rules and drive while fatigued.
A lot of carriers are frustrated by Safety Advocates, but, unfortunately for those carriers, the Safety Advocates have demonstrated that they can directly tie improvements to the highway accident rate and vehicle-related fatalities to regulations such as drug and alcohol testing. It is tough to argue against that in court and in Congress.
The Large Motor Carriers are in favor of e-logging, largely because they use electronic on-board recorder (EOBR) systems already to track their drivers for a number of reasons. The largest carriers all use EOBR systems to manage driver hours, fuel consumption and regulatory compliance factors. For the large carriers, the e-logging rule is essentially just codifying and level-setting the industry they work in.
With two powerful lobbies working on getting the rules put in place, it is almost inevitable that we will see e-logging in one form or another.
Small Carrier Victories
It is important to note that the Small Motor Carrier lobby has already won some important battles on this issue. For one, the current version of the rules presents a much less complex machine, meaning the EOBRs will be significantly less expensive than they would have been under earlier proposals.
By codifying the rules, we will finally be able to get a low-cost provider to release a new, affordable device onto the market.
While many Small Carriers will not like having to use e-logging devices, it is important to remember that the rules are shaped through participation in the rulemaking period. It is possible to shape the change you seek with a little involvement and by speaking up.