The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, or FMCSA, has issued new policy that could avert an unraveling of a federal law that requires electronic logging devices (ELDs) in commercial trucks to monitor truck driver on-duty rules.
Published March 8, 2018, on its website, FMCSA says it will now allow trucking companies to continue using the older software systems in newly purchased ELDs, a policy the agency had previously prohibited. The policy also applies to new trucks that carriers purchase to expand their fleet size.
However, FMCSA stated all companies must have the newer, more stringent software systems installed in all trucks by December 2019. The FMCSA policy addresses a petition filed by Old Dominion Freight Line, a national freight carrier headquartered in Richmond, Virginia. Old Dominion asked the agency to exempt it and other similar companies that utilize electronic devices made by PeopleNet, a leading ELD provider, because the PeopleNet devices were not properly working. Old Dominion explained that PeopleNet had failed to integrate its newer software with Old Dominion’s back office management systems, a situation the carrier said could compromise its ability to maintain its excellent safety record.
Congress mandated the ELD devices in 2012, and the law took effect in December. All commercial trucks engaged in interstate commerce are now required to electronically record their driver hours of service rules, either on earlier devices, called automatic onboard recorders, or the newer ELDs. Previous FMCSA policy required trucking companies that purchase ELDs to use the latest software systems in the devices. But evidence suggests that some motor carriers are reluctant to adopt the newer software, preferring the older version, because, unlike ELD software, the settings for driver status and speeds that trigger the device to turn on, can be adjusted in the older software.
Many industry observers predicted that if FMCSA granted Old Dominion’s petition, as many as 250,000 trucks that utilize PeopleNet devices could be affected. The exemption would allow those carriers to continue using the older software, while other carriers with ELDs would be required to use the newer, more restrictive software. Evidence suggested that could give PeopleNet carriers an advantage in the marketplace.
Had FMCSA granted Old Dominion’s petition, other ELD providers and their customers were expected to follow suit and file similar petitions. This could have given momentum to industry sectors that claim the agency and the industry are ill-prepared to adopt the ELD law, and perhaps increase the odds that the Trump Administration would urge Congress to simply vacate the “Obama era” regulation. FMCSA’s new policy should mute those claims.
The Truckload Carriers Association and the Trucking Alliance filed separate comments on the Old Dominion petition, asking FMCSA to use its authority to tackle the issue with new policy guidance, rather than granting the petition. FMCSA apparently chose to follow that course, leveraging the authority it issued last November, 2017, when it stated that it could address through policy, any widespread issue like the one cited by Old Dominion.
Other transportation stakeholders were divided on the Old Dominion petition. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance and Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety submitted petitions opposing Old Dominion’s petition, while the American Trucking Associations asked FMCSA to grant the petition.