New Digital Regulations for Trucking Industry Could Hurt Small Owner/Operators

While everything seems to be going the electronic/digital route, some of the supposed “improvements” have lead to increased problems.  Electronic/digital records in the government sector, doctor’s offices and elsewhere have resulted in increased incidences of identity theft from hackers accessing private personally identifiable information.  In fact, my information has been hacked twice from doctor’s offices, once from the State government electronic files.  Each of my parents have been hit three different times as well.  All of this within the last 2-3 years.

Now, the over the road trucking industry is looking to implement regulations that require driver/employee hours to be logged electronically in hopes of limiting accidents by keeping tired drivers off the road.  This opens another avenue for hackers.The mandated change is expected to take effect in December of 2017.  Predictions by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) indicate this new mandate could save 26 lives and prevent 562 injuries per year.  Their analysis  on cost-benefit found the new mandate would cost truck firms $1.8 billion across the sector to implement but would save $3 billion in fewer crashes and less paperwork.

However, for small companies this could be disastrous.  In industry survey among small operators found that 84 percent did not use electronic logs, continuing to rely on the paper log book format.  According to the article, this use of paper log books allowed “transport companies already facing razor thin margins to fudge the books, boosting their hours on the road to help the bottom line.”

Now, as a family who happens to own a small trucking company — one driver.  This will definitely impact the business, possibly meaning shutting of the doors.  And, this insinuation that small transport companies “fudge the books” to boost hours on the road happens to be the exception more than the norm.

The impact to small independent firms and single owner/operators will be huge.  Many in the public do not realize the small firms and independent owner/operators are the backbone of the trucking industry, delivering goods to stores in every town in America on a daily basis.  These are the ones who will take a huge productivity hit.  More drivers will need to be found to transport the same amount of freight.  Other areas will need to be found to cut costs.

Naturally, the biggest trucking firms — Schneider, Swift, Covenant, have used electronic logs for years and back the rule.  They all agree it cuts productivity and reduces truckers’ miles on the road while driving up prices consumers pay unless ways are found to “squeeze more productivity out of their trucks.”  While large trucking firm Werner has seen their productivity drop between 3 and 5 percent, smaller companies are estimated to see drops as much as 15 percent.  With the industry already short 50,ooo drivers, this new rule on electronic logs is estimated to leave the industry short 1 million drivers.

This change is being viewed as positive for the railroad companies as CSX Chief Executive Michael Ward expects the railroad to pick up their market share.  While that is fine for over-the-road (cross country) moving of freight, the railroad cannot deliver directly to the stores in every town across the united States.  If the industry lacks the drivers to deliver to the stores, stores will suffer shortages.

While some of these companies boast offering flexible schedules if you want weekends home or a longer route with more money, this is not exactly accurate — coming from experience with contracting with several of the large companies who tended to keep the driver on the road for up to three weeks with variable length runs and several days of “down time” stuck in truck stops waiting on loads.  When asking for a different schedule or “flexibility,” we were frequently “sanctioned” through the company having “no freight” at the moment.

Customers needing freight hauled that causes delays in pick ups or unloading has been an industry problem for quite some time.  Before this was addressed by the company mentioned in the article, our driver was typically “docked” for lateness as a result of the “customer” being late in loading or unloading causing the driver to be late for the next load.  Once the driver was late, the company “handlers” frequently requested the driver to violate safety rules, drive longer than allowed and at unsafe hours to try and make up the time.  Our company refused to have our driver engage in this behavior, cited safety to the contractor and stopped our driver at the end of his driving hours.  On one occasion, the handler of the “large company” miscalculated the number of hours operated causing our driver to take a 36 hour break despite presentation of an accurate log book indicating a 36 hour was unwarranted.

Several occasions saw the larger company have the driver drop off at a customer at midnight then want the driver to pick up at another location at 4 am.  Once a driver picks up a load and starts his route, the driver is required to operate a set number of hours before stopping.  Needless to say, this was stopped on safety reasons as well.  In response, sanctions followed.

While all their “fluff” sounds great in this article, it is much different when operating under their “brokerage business.”  As each of these companies know, the driver, not the company, is ultimately responsible for that rig whether employee or contracted driver.  So while trying to indicate the “small operator” as frequently in violation, it is usually at the behest of the companies that drivers get in trouble because of the retaliative nature of company driver handlers against drivers who refuse to violate safety and transportation rules.

And, in all of this, one has to include the price of freight.  Many times, in certain areas like Florida, the payment to haul freight out results in a loss to the driver.  Rarely, does freight out of Florida cover the gas and insurance.  Drivers either have to get the rate loaded on the front, meaning on the load going in, to break even or make a few dollars, not haul into Florida period or dead head home or to the next pickup outside the State.  Unfortunately, many drivers will take the sub-rate pay to their own detriment instead of leaving it sit forcing the rates to conform to better standards.  Needless to say, we deal with no freight going in or out of Florida.  It’s the same with California due to their retro-fit rules and regulations for the truck conducting business in that State.

The key to prevent exhausted drivers from being on the road comes from the driver themselves.  They have to be the ones to put their foot down.  Companies who encourage drivers to operate exhausted and sanction drivers when they don’t should be fined, sanctioned, and/or held as responsible as the driver for any accident or injury.  The new change to electronic logs will see many small companies, such as ours, close the doors in late 2017 and open up those logs to hackers, who can wreak havoc with the industry through altering those logs thereby resulting in drivers being sanctioned and possibly being unable to haul the freight.  Identities can be stolen through hacking of this new method — where there’s a will there’s a way — posing additional worries for many.

 

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About Suzanne Hamner

Former professional Registered Nurse turned writer; equal opportunity criticizer; politically incorrect conservative;
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