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Supreme Court Decision Paves the Way for Mandatory ELDs in Trucks

At 2:30 a.m. on July 21, 2014, an Indiana truck driver arrived at a warehouse in South Bend. He picked up a load of steel in his 18-wheeler and headed west. Later that afternoon, while traveling through Illinois, the driver failed to notice that traffic ahead had stopped for road construction. He rear-ended a group of vehicles at 65 mph, killing five people. A criminal prosecution later revealed that the driver falsified his logbook that morning by claiming a departure time of 6:15 a.m. – nearly four hours after he began driving.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the government agency in charge of regulating and overseeing safety standards for the trucking industry. On December 16, 2015, the agency published a new rule mandating the installation of electronic logging devices (ELDs) in commercial trucks. Once the rule takes effect, ELDs will make it impossible for drivers to falsify their records by automatically recording a truck’s hours of operation in real time.

Trucking associations oppose the rule. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), a trade group representing 158,000 truckers, filed a petition in the U.S. Supreme Court claiming the law is unconstitutional. According to OOIDA, mandatory installation of ELDs amounts to a warrantless search prohibited by the Fourth Amendment. The Court decided not to hear the case. With the legal challenge concluded, the ELD rule is set to take effect December 18th of this year.

Benefits of Requiring ELDs

Drivers already have access to mobile apps and other technology to assist them with logging their hours. But ELDs are different. These devices are hardwired to the truck’s engine, making the time, distance, and other data they capture highly reliable. ELDs will lead to improvements in:

Equipment Cost

The paperless logbook devices currently on the market do not conform to a single technical standard. This will soon change. To meet certification requirements under the new rule, ELD manufacturers will produce devices that meet government specifications. Standardization within the industry will reduce costs – for manufacturers, and for trucking companies as they comparison shop among devices.

Driver Efficiency

One of the complaints drivers have with mandatory ELDs is that the devices are unnecessary. “I don’t need a machine to log for me,” some drivers would say. While it is true that ELDs perform a task that drivers can do for themselves, the devices will leave drivers with more time to perform other job duties. They will also make roadside compliance stops faster and easier for everyone involved.

Record-Keeping Accuracy

Anytime a human puts pen to paper, mistakes can be made. Intentional falsification of logbooks, as occurred prior to the fatal accident discussed above, is also a problem. Regardless of a driver’s intentions, tedious and repetitive tasks like logging hours is best left to automated devices like ELDs.

Road Safety

Drivers are tempted to underreport their travel time because it allows them to make more money (drivers are usually paid by the mile). But it would be unfair to put all the blame for fatigue-related accidents on truck drivers. The companies they work for are motivated by similar financial considerations and may put pressure on drivers to deliver a load on time, even if it requires breaking the rules. By making it impossible to cheat, ELDs help keep everybody honest and Indiana roadways safe.

Evidence Gathering

Proving negligence in a commercial vehicle accident case can be difficult. In the aftermath of a collision, motorists and first responders are focused on helping the injured, not collecting evidence of liability. Witnesses may forget what they saw or give conflicting accounts. ELDs have the potential to help with this problem. Because these devices continuously monitor engine activity, investigators have access to reliable data about the driver’s conduct at the time of a crash.

Get Advice about a Truck Accident in Indiana

The Supreme Court made the right decision by not getting in the way of mandatory ELDs. Indiana still has a long way to go toward reducing trucking accidents, however. If you or a loved one has been injured, call McNeely Stephenson at (317) 825-5200 or send us a message using the form above.