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Drivers may fret e-logs — and quit over them — but they could benefit the most

Last week, the always-excellent Todd Dills, Senior Editor with CCJ’s sister magazine, Overdrive, published a survey on driver response to the proposed 2016 Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate proposed last month by FMCSA.

Todd’s story, which you can read herePeopleNet_TABLET_Incab_eLogsScreen_062013, caused a stir that is still rippling through the trucking industry, because his findings indicated that 52 percent of company drivers owner-operators and a whopping 71 percent of independent drivers responding to the survey said they’d fold up their tents and quit their driving jobs if an ELD mandate became law.

But before everyone starts clutching their pearls and mopping their foreheads over these findings, consider this: The very same survey revealed that 26 percent of responding owner-operators are already using ELDs for their business, and another 25 percent of responding fleet drivers said they’d simply get an ELD and go on about their business if a law was passed.

If you take those numbers at face value, there’s good reason to panic. There’s also good reason to think an ELD mandate won’t be a big deal at all.

What exactly, is going on here?

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First off, let’s note that polling can be notoriously tricky to get right, as Fox News discovered on Election Night back in 2012. Which is why I don’t believe for one minute that 71 percent of all the owner-operators on the road today are going to say, “Screw it!” and quit if an ELD mandate becomes law. It’s one thing to answer a few questions on a survey and say you’ll quit. It’s another thing to think about feeding your family, making the rent and keeping the lights on when push comes to shove. And besides, in case you haven’t heard, jobs are still hard to come by in this economy.

That’s not to suggest we won’t see some attrition if the ELD rule is enacted. Every time a new trucking regulation comes into play, I think the industry loses drivers — particularly on the owner-operator side of the equation. Some of these are “unsafe” operators who don’t want to play by a rulebook that is getting increasingly harder to ignore. Others are simply independent-minded Americans who love the romance of the Open Road and resent any sort of oversight or “interference” in their daily activities.

And really, that second view, in my opinion, cuts to the core of the opposition to ELDs. Americans are a free people increasingly surrounded by a growing Surveillance State. Technology has made it easier than ever before to track the movements and activities of people as they go through all aspects of their lives. Sometimes this is a good thing: The identification and capture of the Boston Marathon bombers last year springs to mind.

But whether or not the benefits of all this surveillance outweigh the steady loss of privacy we’re all faced with today is an issue that is brand-new and very much open to (and deserving of) debate.

But here’s the thing: There is growing evidence that ELDs won’t be all bad for drivers. In fact, voices in the industry are starting to speak up and say that ELDs will actually make life easier for drivers and protect them from abuse from shippers/receivers and law enforcement officials alike.

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As I reported from the Technology and Maintenance Council’s Spring Meeting in Nashville earlier this year, the No. 1 violation truck drivers are cited for by law enforcement officials is for improper logbooks. ELDs take that handy little citation away from the cops forever. They want your log? You hand them a printout. If you’re legal, they’re done. (Although I hope to hell all your lights are in operating order.)

A friend of mine who manages a fleet in the Midwest has been thinking a lot about ELDs lately and he sent me a note this week. His fleet is an early adopter of ELDs and, naturally, experienced resistance from its drivers. Here’s what he had to say about the experience:

We adopted the slogan ‘Embrace Change’ as we started gearing up to put e-Logs in the fleet. And I met with several drivers who told me flat out that [ELDs] were ‘bullshit.’

 One of the loudest critics was an older guy – one of our best drivers. And he told me there was no way he’d accept an e-Log in his rig. As a favor to me, I asked him to give it a try.

 He is now a big fan of the system and says it saves him about an hour a day in terms of paperwork. Even better, our fleet’s driver pay went up year-over-year because we now have metrics in place to make our company more profitable. This allowed us to pay out two additional driver bonuses in 2013.

 My take on the change to E-Logs is this: The adoption and acceptance of e-logs is not a driver problem. It is a fleet management problem. Fleets need to start educating, embracing and managing drivers on the advent of these devices. Because they don’t just benefit fleets; we’ve shown that they make life much easier for drivers.”

My point here is not to defend – or condemn – ELDs. It’s simply to say that the responses recorded in Todd’s Overdrive survey appear to be an overreaction. It’s very possible that e-logs will help you fight unfair traffic tickets, save you an hour or more in paperwork and even get your run finished and home sooner.

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