In 2017, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) mandated that all commercial truck drivers use electronic logs to track the hours they spend on duty and behind the wheel.
Since then, truckers’ compliance with Hours of Service (HOS) rules has improved, according to the FMCSA. Yet the agency has hesitated to announce whether the electronic logging devices (ELD) rule has actually reduced truck crashes or made U.S. roads safer.
The ELD Report to Congress
The FMCSA’s April 2023 Electronic Logging Devices Oversight Report contains the agency’s report to Congress on the effectiveness of its ELD rules. The report’s introduction identifies four purposes for the report:
- To analyze “the cost and effectiveness” of ELDs,
- To explain how the FMCSA reviews drivers’ ELD logs,
- To detail how the FMCSA addresses privacy and safety issues connected to ELD data, and
- To provide a process by which a driver can challenge or appeal an ELD violation notice.
The FMCSA estimates that the costs of ELDs range from approximately $166 to $419 per driver per year, depending on the system chosen. However, the agency also estimates that drivers and trucking companies save up to $809 per year in time and resources that would otherwise be spent managing paper log books.
Improved Compliance with HOS Requirements
To evaluate the effectiveness of ELDs in encouraging drivers to comply with hours of service (HOS) requirements, the FMCSA compared HOS violation rates from 2017, before the ELD requirement took full effect, and 2021.
The agency found that in December 2017, 1.19 percent of driver inspections included at least one citation for an hours of service violation. By December 2021, however, this percentage dropped to approximately 0.77 percent. Consequently, the FMCSA believes that electronic logging devices help drivers stay compliant with hours of service rules and logging requirements.
The FMCSA also noted in its report to Congress that “ELDs make it easier for FMCSA and its enforcement partners to identify falsified records and take appropriate action.” Enforcement teams also spend less time on hours of service and logging questions, allowing them to spend more time focused on other safety-related matters.
Safety Remains an Open Question
In its analysis of cost, the FMCSA determined that ELDs can help to reduce the costs associated with truck crashes. Because electronic logs can be stored and shared more efficiently than paper logs, the FMCSA estimates that electronic logs conserve about $1.836 million in costs related to truck accidents each year.
Whether the ELDs actually help reduce the rate of truck accidents, however, remains an open question.
One way ELDs may help boost safety is by freeing FMCSA and enforcement agencies to focus on safety issues. The FMCSA report noted that the standardized, automatic nature of electronic logs allows safety officials to review these records more quickly, “freeing them up to focus on other safety and enforcement matters.”
But does this free time translate to better safety on US roads? The FMCSA report to Congress did not give a definitive answer. Rather, the agency noted that several factors intersect to affect the relationship between hours of service compliance and truck accident rates.
Factors the FMCSA identified in its report include:
- Changes to hours of service (HOS) requirements implemented in September 2020,
- HOS exemptions issued in some instances due to the COVID-19 pandemic,
- The implementation of the FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse may have had added independent effects on truck safety.
Currently, the agency states it does not have the data it needs to fully analyze these factors. Without that information, the FMCSA refrained from stating definitively whether ELD use is directly connected to truck safety. More information is needed to determine whether better HOS compliance through using ELDs translates to fewer accidents, less deadly crashes, or other forms of roadway safety.
The rate of fatal and injury-causing truck accidents on US roads, meanwhile, has not decreased since ELDs became standard. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that vehicle crash deaths have risen since 2017. These numbers include fatal crashes involving large trucks. If ELDs have improved trucking safety, it is difficult to tell based on the overall data involving traffic deaths.
For now, it appears that others on the road cannot rely on ELDs to improve the safety of trucking. Instead, drivers and pedestrians must continue to stay alert and prevent dangerous situations when they can – and speak to an experienced Chicago truck accident attorney if injury occurs.