Photo: GPS Insight

Photo: GPS Insight

The ELD Mandate went into effect on Dec. 18, 2017, or did it? For some fleets, they have been able to dodge a regulatory bullet and buy themselves — and in some cases — the industry as a whole more time to install electronic logging devices (ELDs) thanks to a plethora of short-term exemptions.

But what should fleets do with this extra time? Further delay implementing ELDs or press forward and install a solution as soon as possible?

Getting Breathing Room

For the transportation industry as a whole, the announcement by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on the eve of the mandate’s effective date that it had granted a 90-day enforcement exemption, ending on April 1, was met with a collective sigh of relief. While the violations for not using an ELD or grandfathered AOBRD would not result in trucks being put out of service and drivers (and their fleet employers) being dinged on their CSA scores, fines, ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 per offense would still be assessed.

The rationale for this “phased” implementation was to give fleets and drivers time to adjust and get up to speed with this wholesale change to the way fleets and their drivers are expected to operate. But the message was clear, fleets still have to implement an ELD solution or pay the penalty — in the form of significant fines — but without the consequence of having their business constrained.

Just the Beginning

The enforcement exemption is not the end of the ELD exemptions. UPS and the Motion Picture Association of America have both received specific, individual exemptions, and there have been requests for additional exemptions for agricultural, power, and communication fleets that are pending.

Another 90-day exemption for fleets renting trucks was recently granted and will run until April 19, which was designed to help rental fleets meet the ELD requirements.

That being said, fleets are not completely off the hook. Enforcement has continued—in some cases causing fleets some headaches due to agencies themselves still getting up to speed on the ins and outs of dealing with an ELD or coping with grandfathered AOBRDs.

The FMCSA has asked states to use a specific violation code, 39522A, during the enforcement exemption period to allow the federal agency to gather statistics on ELD use and adoption rates. This code has yet to appear in publicly available data, but there has been an increase in 3958A (no logs available) and 39515 (violations related to use of e-logs meeting the previous government spec for AOBRDs), which will reportedly affect CSA scores unless challenged.

There’s little argument that can be made that these growing pains and technical/industry-specific exemptions are giving fleets time to make the transition from a decades-old analog industry standard to a new, highly technological solution.

Coupled with a telematics solution, the promise of the ELD is that it will and is making the trucking industry safer and more accountable.

Pushing the Exemption Limits

But there is a move to effectively undercut the ELD through exemptions. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has petitioned the government for a 5-year exemption for small business trucking operations with revenues of the less than $27.5 million or 95% of the total number of trucking fleets. 

While that may sound excessive to those who support the ELD rule and hopeful news to those who don’t, the petition includes a number of qualifiers that could reduce the number of fleets who could be exempted, including being able to document that the fleet has operated safely and has no at-fault crashes. Even factoring in that element, tens of thousands of carriers would still be exempt

As with the other exemptions, the stated goal of this one is to allow the industry — in this case ELD manufacturers — to catch up and have their solutions fully vetted and cleared by the FMCSA.

What this would likely do is allow fleets more time to delay implementation of an ELD solution and carry on with paper logs, resulting in business-as-usual and doing little to address the safety needs and accountability of today’s trucking fleets.

Don’t Wait and See

While this slew of seemingly endless exemptions may give fleets pause to implement ELDs in the hope that the mandate will be reversed or further nullified, this is a foolhardy and expensive gamble.

Because of its origins in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), there is little probability that the ELD mandate can be exempted out of existence. MAP-21 is settled legislation and has survived a challenge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in 2016, and has wide support among law enforcement, public health and safety groups, truck drivers, and trucking companies. 

Further, even though its critics see the ELD mandate as leading to a number of unintended consequences — such as increasing the speed of vehicles or causing more drivers to leave the industry — there is little doubt the intended consequence that hours of service (HOS) will be accurately compiled, meaning that drivers are operating their vehicles more safely will be achieved. 

The moral of this story: ELDs are here to stay and exemptions are buying you time—use this time wisely and implement an ELD solution from a reputable provider on the FMCSA’s certified list that can support you no matter how the regulatory winds are blowing.