ELD Fallout for 2018

The front door of my home has locks on it. The locks are not there to protect me from 95% of the people who would never dream of walking through my front door with ill intentions. The locks are there with the small fraction in mind that would walk through my front door with less than honorable objectives. My door locks are much like the much debated ELD regulation that started in December 2017.

The need for ELD wasn’t created by the majority of trucking companies and drivers; the need was created by the few. If we take a long minute to consider the ‘few impacting the many’, isn’t that how many laws and regulations come about? Being in cargo insurance and freight risk mitigation I have no choice to support the ELD regulation. I would get hives and eye twitches if I didn’t. But I can understand the chagrin of some people not in cargo insurance and risk.

Most trucking companies and drivers play it straight. They know the dangers of running multiple logs to extend drive time past allowable hours. There is risk created for the general public, the driver, the cargo, and liability risk for the trucking company. It just isn’t worth it. Not worth it for the majority that is, the few not so much. The reason is money. The reason for most everything is money.  There is a small percentage of trucking companies and drivers who will go past regulatory limits to make a few extra dollars. Like regulations and laws already on the books, the ELD is directed at this small percentage.

The fractions who intentionally run illegal hours explain why there are many cheesed off drivers and companies about ELD. The fraction of cheaters forced the government’s hand. There is an expense to ELD to install plus a yearly cost. It’s not a huge amount of money, but in a world where some trucks are living off margins that seem almost impossible it counts. ELD additional expense on the surface seems unnecessary for something most aren’t doing in the first place and is resented by some. If tomorrow the federal government passed a law mandating I couldn’t have a marijuana grow house or meth lab in my home, I understand that… it’s a reasonable law. Now if because I work from my home the federal government added I must pay for a monitor, both installation and yearly maintenance, to ensure I follow the law, I would feel uncooperative to say the least.

But nice people do sometimes need to be regulated. I am going to tell a story told to me. The story teller was ‘Nick’.  Nick was a good guy. He was a family man and generally an upstanding fellow. Nick is still all of those things. Unlike today, the story was framed around a time Nick was also an owner operator truck driver. Nick was making a living and supporting his family driving a truck to do it. As often happens to truckers Nick got behind schedule on his loads he was hauling and miles driven. It doesn’t take much to put an owner operator in the red. Sometimes it’s a mechanical breakdown, slow moving insensitive shippers or receivers, or inclement weather. As an owner operator when these things happen it is like someone garnishing their wages. They make less money. Since truck drivers have bills just like the rest of us, when you get paid by the mile and you are behind, there is temptation to fudge the logs to roll more miles to make the rent money or give your kids a nice Christmas. Nick fell to this temptation and kept driving past legal hours.

Worry not; this isn’t a story of tragedy. This is a story of a lesson learned. Nick, with the help of an unscrupulous dispatcher and good old fashioned chemistry, kept the wheels turning and turning and turning. Wide awake after countless hours of driving Nick ended up taking the front door (lead) of a small middle of the night convoy of trucks traveling west on I-16 in Georgia. Things were moving along well for the small band of trucks until Nick locked up his breaks and skidded to a halt on the highway nearly causing a pile up of the trucks traveling together. When the other drivers demanded to know why Nick had nearly killed them, Nick was incredulous and shot back over the radio “Don’t you see the the cows on the highway!” Yep, Nick was wide awake but also hallucinating from lack of sleep. Nick was firmly in the minority and intentionally breaking the law. After realizing he was hallucinating Nick shut himself down. He knew if he kept going he was apt to hurt himself or others. Lesson learned, that was not a mistake Nick would make again.

Why the story? The first reason is because I felt like telling it. The second reason is to show not every cowboy running multiple logs is an evil person, but they are without doubt intentionally violating a regulation that keeps us all safer. These folks are the ones ELD is aimed at. As I mentioned earlier, the majority of drivers wouldn’t put the public at risk intentionally. They just need a bit of guidance and regulation to keep them on the straight, narrow, and safe path. That is where log books came in. Log book regulations make drivers, who normally would follow the rules anyway, pay attention and think about their hours of service. It would be easy to lose track of hours of service if there were not a log book to tend to. It stands to reason if we are going to have log books there has to be some sort of effective enforcement. With paper log books it is too easy to work around the regulations and fake it. Why have regulations with no real way to check compliance? With ELD it will be harder for the fraction of drivers who are intentionally violating regulations to get away with it. Now that ELD is on the books, now what?

The cited loss on productivity causing havoc throughout the country may be a little over stated by some. But make no mistake, there will be productivity loss. The cost of the ELD may be hard to swallow for some small trucking companies and owner operators. And even lawful drivers will end up driving fewer miles as no regulation is punishment free even for the law-abiding. Although the cost will, and has to, work its way down to the transportation buyers then ultimately to consumers. This is where things get fun.

December’s ELD regulation grows real teeth on Aril 1st 2018. Carriers will be shut down if not ELD compliant. Reasonable logic dictates most carriers will be compliant, but there will be some that will, at least for a period of time, get shoved out of the market. And let us not forget. Some truck drivers are truck drivers because they are rabidly independent. Things like ELD (Uncle Over Their Shoulder) may drive some drivers out of the profession for good. Combine the lost productivity due to ELD, a heck of a driver shortage, and already tight capacity, and there will be unavoidable rate increases. These rate increases won’t be pennies on the mile. The rate increases will be steady and significant. Major transportation buyers are already getting their checkbooks out. This won’t be until ‘rates get better’ it will be the way things are going forward.

As a shipper or receiver you can help soften the Rate-a-geddon. There is a reason drivers look agitated when you take two hours or more to load or unload a truck. Time translates to miles and miles to money. With ELD the logic gets put on steroids. It’s time for some shippers and receivers to rethink how they handle loading and unloading trucks. Speed of execution will become paramount. Trucks will not be able to ‘turn off’ their ELD or fudge numbers just because you are taking a while to get them loaded.  My guess is collectively truckers will force the issue by reducing free loading/unloading time to one hour with stiff detention charges for every hour thereafter. Carriers will have no choice. Even though rates will be plenty high, it makes sense slow consignors and consignees pay extra to help pay the tab for general lost productivity through meaningful detention charges and defray the losses to the truck made to wait.

Will ELD implode the economy as some have claimed? No, of course it won’t. Regulations of the past said to be dooms day triggers, the last being the SOLAS weight mandate, didn’t kick the legs from under anything either. As mentioned earlier things will get more expensive though. End consumers may not notice very much. By the time the end consumer buys their single $10 widget the increased cost will be down to unnoticeable nickels and dimes. It’s the transportation buyers using the same budget for transportation in 2018 as they used in 20017 that will become unglued.  It’s time to start realistically forecasting transportation rates though 2018 into 2019. I wouldn’t start the process by thinking cheap. The buyer’s market is long gone and won’t be returning anytime soon.