December 13, 2020

In December of 2017, a new mandate went into effect that shook the transportation industry, the ELD mandate. This mandate requires that all trucking fleets be equipped with electronic logging devices versus paper logbooks that many truck drivers used in the past. The rule was created to make roadways safer by ensuring that drivers are being honest about their on-duty hours in order to prevent driver fatigue and crashes. Our blog takes a look at a recent study by Michigan State University1  that reviews if the mandate has in fact served its purpose since it was put into effect three years ago. While the mandate should have reduced noncompliance with HOS rules, the study reviews how the mandate may have caused the opposite effect whereby drivers increased their pace of work and the extent of aggressive driving.

ELD Mandate Timeline

Historically, the transportation industry has been plagued by chronic non-compliance with HOS rules due to several factors, including the predominance of piece-rate pay that incentivizes drivers to work more hours to increase earnings, the low probability of inspection due to limited enforcement resources, and the fact that paper logbooks were easy to falsify. Because of the latter issue, the ELD mandate was implemented in various stages (presented below).

A large percentage of small to mid-sized carriers did not adopt ELDs until just prior to light enforcement. In fact, as of mid-September 2017, only 15% of motor carriers with 5-99 power units had started the process of adopting ELDs. However, once strict enforcement loomed, this further increased ELD adoption.

HOS Violations

The study reviews data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on inspections and crashes for legally authorized carriers. By reviewing the table below, violations were measured by treatment period according to carrier size.

From the table above, we can see that crashes started at a medium level, rose during light enforcement, and then fell to lower than the initial level. Violations and inspections decreased from no enforcement to strict enforcement. One potential reason for this is that inspectors’ behaviors changed following the mandate. For example, if inspectors began to assume that if drivers had ELDs that were operating within regulations, there could be a drop in violation rates.

Study Results

With regard to shippers, the study findings suggest that shippers should closely examine whether their most used carriers have seen unsafe driving violations and crashes increase in frequency since the mandate took effect, with special emphasis placed on smaller carriers. While the study found that the ELD mandate reduces truckers’ propensity to violate HOS rules, it also found that smaller firms, which had very low rates of ELD adoption prior to the regulations, saw a substantial uptick in their citations for unsafe driving behaviors. As another result, all sized carriers saw significant increases in their crash rates once strict enforcement of the mandate started. These results call into question whether electronic monitoring has truly improved safety in the transportation sector.

Further Research

The study suggests several directions for further research including the following:

  1. Trucks equipped with engines predating 2000 are exempt from the mandate. Has the mandate resulted in a shift toward some carriers utilizing older vehicles?
  2. Does the ELD mandate result in a heightened number of carrier failures?
  3. Some states gave inspectors leeway regarding whether they enforced the mandate during the light enforcement period. Did inspectors’ prior stringency affect whether or not they cited carriers for not having ELDs during this period?

In conclusion, this study is simply one opinion on the effects of the ELD mandate, however, the authors strongly recommend that policy makers should consider the unintended consequences, such as drivers speeding to beat the clock and a parking shortage due to the breaks required.

1Scott A, Balthrop A, Miller JW. Unintended responses to IT-enabled monitoring: The case of the electronic logging device mandate. J Oper Manag. 2020;1-30.