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Trucking changing significantly on April 1
Advocates say rules will increase safety; foes say they will drive up costs
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Matt Handte, executive vice president at Tribe Transportation, monitors GPS data coming from his trucks in Gwinnett County on Friday, March 16, 2018. The data is coming from the trucks’ electronic log systems, which are now mandatory in all large, commercial trucks.

Commercial trucking will change significantly on April 1, when federally mandated electronic tracking of trucks becomes mandatory.

Congressional action created the electronic log rule for semitrailers in mid-December of 2017, but a grace period allowing the industry to adapt extended the deadline to April, according the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the agency charged with enforcing the regulations.

The rule was included in a transportation bill signed into law in 2012 by former President Barack Obama.

On April 1, the grace window will close and most commercial operators — and practically all long-haul truckers traveling more than 150 miles in a day — will be required to have the devices installed in their trucks or face sanctions from law enforcement, regulators and ultimately be pushed out of the industry.

Critics of the rule argue it’s going to increase the cost of any good that is transported on a truck, or basically all goods everywhere, from cars to oranges to iPhones, while supporters say it promotes safety and dependability in the trucking industry.

“It basically requires us to show any and all movement of the truck and when the driver is actually driving and working and on duty and off duty,” said Tim Hutchings, director of safety and compliance with Crane Transport. “With the ELD mandate, it’s doing that process automatically.”

Drivers can be on duty for 14 hours each day, but only 11 of those hours can be spent driving. These are hard caps, and if drivers are caught short on a delivery or on the way home they must stop driving or face consequences from their employers, regulators or law enforcement.

“If he drove five hours to get somewhere and he set for five hours to get somewhere, he’s used 10 hours of his day and he’s only got four hours to drive for the rest of the day,” Hutchings said.

Often the issue isn’t with manufacturers or brokers (those businesses that warehouse and prepare products for transport), which have a strong financial interest in getting their products on the road as quickly as possible, but with receivers. At a port, retailer or other destination, a driver can wait for hours before his cargo is taken from the truck.

“The receiver may hold him up longer than expected, so now he’s out of time … and from a legal standpoint he can’t drive anymore. Let’s say he’s in the middle of nowhere Nebraska and our operations team’s found him a back-haul, well he can’t even go pick it up because he’s out of time,” Hutchings said. “So now the truck has to wait until he’s had a 10-hour break and pick it up the next day.”

The rule is creating headaches for small businesses that don’t have the resources to monitor electronic logging in-house, leading them to spend as much as five figures each month on vendors offering the service.

Not everyone is in the same boat. Electronic tracking has been voluntarily used in the industry for years, often by larger companies with deep enough pockets to invest in technology to not only maximize efficiency but land contracts with cautious industries with high demands for insurance and dependability.

At Tribe Transportation, Executive Vice President Matt Handte said the company adopted electronic logging about four years ago at the demand of the industries that it serves. Since then, the company has developed a treasure trove of data about routes and travel time that Handte said has made Tribe more efficient and more safe.

Handte said the electronic logs create an “even playing field” among all companies by not allowing truckers to fudge the numbers on paper logs, which have been the industry standard for years. Handte said paper logs allowed drivers to sacrifice safety to increase their driving time.

“The length of time we can drive and how far we can go, it now puts everybody in the same category,” Handte said. “That 670 miles in a day in a perfect scenario is about as far as anybody can travel, so as that relates to rates now we can be more in line with what it should cost versus somebody who can do it faster or cheaper in the old paper log days.”

The Tribe system also allows its central office to send out emails, alerts, fuel information and a host of other communication to drivers as well as keep tabs on trucks and routes. Electronic logging hasn’t hurt the business, which now owns about 500 trucks and is on the edge of opening a new campus near the Lanier Technical College. 

But it might hurt your wallet. 

State Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, is not a fan of the federal legislation. Miller is a co-owner of Milton Martin Honda, which relies on long-haul truckers to deliver vehicles from manufacturing plants in the Southeast.

“It’s a terrible, terrible bill,” Miller said of MAP-21. “It’s going to drive up the cost of groceries, it’s going to drive up the cost of dry goods, it’s going to drive up the cost of appliances, it’s going to drive up the cost of clothes. It’s going to drive up the price of every single consumer product.”

The new rule is also leading the more experienced truckers to retire from the job early, according to Hutchings, which is creating more problems for a worker-starved industry.

Poultry processors and farmers might be able to steer clear of the rule.

Agricultural trucking has received two 90-day exemptions from the rule, and Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, argues that the new rule needs to be studied further before it takes effect.

“I am encouraged by the announcement that agriculture producers have won an additional extension from the ELD mandate. Northeast Georgia is the seat of the world’s poultry production, and the rule would be particularly complicated and burdensome for this industry and other livestock transporters,” Collins said. “I have repeatedly supported a delay of this rule and called for further review of its impacts, and I will continue to advocated for further review, while working for a permanent exemption for agriculture, including the poultry industry.”

Mike Giles, head of the Georgia Poultry Federation, said on Friday that he believes the industry will remain exempt from the rule because poultry truckers rarely drive beyond 150 miles in a single shift. Truckers traveling less than 150 miles are exempt from the electronic log rule.