Digital tracking (ELD) mandate driving up transportation costs, causing food waste

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Created with the goal of improving highway safety for the trucking industry, the ELD rule was passed hastily, lacking the necessary flexibility for varying conditions that may increase a driver’s time on the road, and without a thorough assessment of its potential costs.

News outlets and advocacy groups across the country are ringing alarm bells about the negative impacts of the ELD (electronic logging device) mandate. President Obama signed the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” bill in 2012 which required the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act (FMCSA) to impose an electronic logging device (ELD) rule on commercial carriers. The ELD digitally monitors commercial drivers’ drive time and other activities, and many industry professionals consider the rule to be a cumbersome invasion of privacy.

The rule was initially phased-in 2015 and went into full effect on April 1 of this year. Its negative impacts are being measured by increased transportation costs, wasted food, and lost jobs. The mandate’s restrictions govern all commercial truckers and are driving professional truckers away from the industry. Small trucking companies, in particular, are impacted by the invasive devices. An April 12 piece by Clarissa Hawes in explains:

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Ramped up enforcement of the ELD mandate is causing some truckers to leave the industry, Montague said.

“We think that the 3 percent of owner-operators who said they were not planning to become compliant with the mandate followed through and left the industry,” he said.

A survey of 645 truckers conducted by DAT in March found that 3 percent were likely to stop driving rather than agree to be digitally monitored.

One trucking company owner said that since January he has lost three experienced drivers who refused to switch over from paper logs.

“I now have four trucks parked and can’t find drivers – the ELD mandate has really hurt us,” Mark Jones of Crossville, Ala., told

His company hauls time-sensitive, custom-built meat processing equipment. Jones estimates that he’s lost around $25,000 in income since Jan. 1 because he doesn’t have enough drivers to haul freight.

Long-distance livestock carriers, who must unload their animals at a feeding facility if they are parked for more than a set amount of time, are also feeling the pain. Not only does it place increased burdens and costs on livestock carriers, it threatens the well being of the animals themselves. Because the ELD mandate is so broad it also hits horse hobbyists and other non-commercial livestock enterprises.

Created with the goal of improving highway safety for the trucking industry, the ELD rule was passed hastily, lacking the necessary flexibility for varying conditions that may increase a driver’s time on the road, and without a thorough assessment of its potential costs. In a recent Townhall opinion piece, Erich Reimer put it this way:

…the ELD’s rigid cycle requirement results in truck drivers having to stick to arbitrary scheduling that often does not mesh with the realities of their actual driving. If they are stuck in traffic, the clock keeps running. Often in order to meet their deadlines truck drivers will then rush to their destination, potentially creating accidents. This cumulative time tracking, rather than consecutive or mileage based, thereby distorts trucker activity.

Reimer also points out that the mandate’s 14-hour work cycle is based on the assumption that a driver is on the road the entire time, when in fact a typical day includes loading, unloading, rest stops, meals and other non-driving activities.

Animals being hauled from place to place are certainly put at risk by the ELD’s “off-the-road” requirements, but fresh food is also being wasted on a large scale and at a significant cost to truckers and consumers. According to a May 14 report by KSBY, the ELD mandate has resulted in burgeoning transportation costs, and is making it tough for a California food bank to meet the needs of its clients. The report states:

The Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County prides itself on its ability to distribute fresh produce to those in need, but this year they’ve had to cancel some shipments due to a drastic rise in transportation costs.

“Last year 52 percent of our total volume of food distributed was fresh produce,” Director of Operations Tim Parker said.

Looking around the food bank’s warehouse, boxes of fresh produce wait to be sorted for distribution to community partners, but some are missing.

“In some cases we’re actually not taking in planned shipments of fresh produce,” Parker explained. “Freight bills have gone up to the extent that sometimes its just not worth it to even say yes to them.”

A new, 2018 mandate requires truckers to track hours driven in a new electronic logging device. The mandate shot up prices for shipping produce from surrounding areas and states. Parker said the organization usually splits the cost of shipping between other close by food banks to cut down on costs, but that often isn’t a reality now.

“What we’re experiencing now is that on some of those longer haul routes, formerly we might have expected to split a freight bill between the food banks of let’s say 400 dollars. We’re seeing sometimes double or triple that amount,” he said.

The ELD mandate is a vexing blend of good intentions and ignorance. The Obama Administration failed to consider the differences in types of freight. Cows are not TVs are not lettuce. A blog post in Express Freight Finance curtly makes that point:

Unlike electronic goods, clothing, and cars, agriculture transportation runs on a much tighter schedule. The ELD mandate allows for an 11 hour day, after which truckers must stop driving until the next day. Produce rots. Livestock needs food and water. Even the goods being carried in refrigerated trailers have an expiration date. What are truckers supposed to do when driving between states to make deliveries? Theoretically, drivers could hand off loads, but that decreases revenue all around and can cause a big problem with logistics in an industry that already has a shortage of truckers.

The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration included some exceptions for agricultural carriers, including:

  • transportation of agricultural commodities during planting and harvesting (including livestock, bees and other commodities) within a 150-air mile radius from the source of the commodities
  • within the 150-air mile radius by for hire or private carriers, work and driving hours are not limited and the driver is also not required to use an Electronic Logging Device (ELD). In an operation where drivers share vehicle(s) equipped with ELDs
  • Time spent working within the 150 air-mile radius does not count toward the driver’s daily and weekly limits.
  • When operating within the 150 air-mile radius the driver should not log into the ELD.
  • Drivers transporting agricultural commodities are not required to use an ELD if the vehicle was manufactured before the model year 2000, provided they prepare paper logs, or if they do not operate outside of the 150 air-mile radius for more than 8 days during any 30-day period
  • Covered farm vehicles are exempted from the HOS regulations. This only applies to private transportation of agricultural commodities, including livestock by the owner or operator of a farm or ranch, or family members or employees.

The problem is, as illustrated by the wasted food and increased cost to the California food bank, is not so much in localized agricultural operations, but in getting those agricultural products to various markets throughout the country. The controversy over the ELD mandate is unlikely to go away, especially as fuel costs are on the rise, and demand for freight grows in a surging economy. Truckers United For Freedom has created a petition to repeal the 14-hour workday rule, which can be seen by clicking here.

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