Trucking Industry Lawsuit Could Halt Progress on ELDs
After tax-related filings, hours-of-service records for interstate truck and bus drivers create the second-largest paperwork burden for U.S. government regulators. A December 2015 rule issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) aims to cut down on that burden by requiring most interstate commercial truck and bus companies to implement electronic logging devices (ELDs) that would automatically record a driver’s time on the road and miles driven. Affected companies would need to begin replacing their paper logs with ELDs by December of 2017.
The ELD rule would reduce crashes by fatigued drivers and prevent 1,844 trucking accidents per year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. The DOT says this reduction in trucking accidents would save 26 lives and prevent 562 injuries each year.
“Since 1938, complex, on-duty/off-duty logs for truck and bus drivers were made with pencil and paper, [making them] virtually impossible to verify,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a press release accompanying the final FMCSA rule. “This automated technology not only brings logging records into the modern age, [but] it also allows roadside safety inspectors to unmask violations of federal law that put lives at risk.”
A lawsuit from a group of independent truckers, however, seeks to overturn the ELD rule, claiming it won’t reduce crashes and infringes on drivers’ privacy.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago will examine the new ELD rule in a hearing sometime this month, based on a lawsuit filed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). Like previous OOIDA lawsuits, the case is expected to launch a long litigation process that could delay the implementation of ELDs indefinitely.
“There is simply no proof that the costs, burdens, and privacy infringements associated with this [ELD] mandate are justified,” OOIDA president and CEO Jim Johnston said in a statement regarding the group’s lawsuit.
In 2011, the OOIDA successfully sued the FMCSA and convinced an appellate court to overturn a previous version of the ELD rule.
New ELD Rule Addresses Past Concerns over Trucker Harassment
In its 2011 lawsuit, the OOIDA successfully argued that the previous version of the ELD rule failed to adequately protect drivers from being harassed by employers for refusing to violate hours-of-service regulations. The group also said that requiring drivers to install a GPS without a warrant constituted an unlawful search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, and that the devices didn’t offer enough improvement over paper logbooks because drivers who use them still have to manually input changes in their service status.
The federal court agreed that the FMCSA hadn’t done enough to address concerns about driver harassment and overturned the rule. However, the court didn’t address the OOIDA’s other arguments in its ruling.
The FMCSA’s new ELD rule includes specific provisions that protect commercial truck and bus drivers from employer harassment based on information generated by ELDs. In its legal challenge to the new rule, though, the OOIDA repeated its earlier challenges to the rule, including a contention that the new rule still fails to address potential driver harassment issues. The OOIDA also argued that the new rule doesn’t satisfy a legal requirement to preserve confidentiality and limit the use of ELD data by regulatory enforcement personnel.
The Seventh Circuit Court will hear oral arguments on the ELD rule beginning on September 13, 2016, and is expected to reach a final decision by early 2017.
Unlike other recent trucking safety measures from the FMCSA, the ELD rule has managed to gather significant support from within the trucking industry. For example, the American Trucking Associations (ATA), an industry lobby group, lauded the rule in a press release on the same day the FMCSA announced the measure would go into effect.
“Today’s announcement of an ELD mandate will make our industry even safer than it is today, so we are grateful to FMCSA for advancing this important regulation,” ATA Chairman Pat Thomas said according to the release.
The ATA also weighed in on the current lawsuit by filing a brief in June with the Seventh Circuit Court that offered arguments in support of the new rule. Two other industry groups, the Trucking Alliance for Driver Safety and Security and the Advocates for Auto and Highway Safety, also worked together to file a separate brief supporting the rule on the same day.
Small Trucking Companies Lag Behind Large Firms in ELD Installation
Most larger truck companies in the U.S. have already installed ELDs throughout their fleets. Smaller companies and solo drivers, on the other hand, have resisted the move toward ELDs, citing concerns about costs versus benefits, business disruptions, and privacy intrusions.
Small, so-called “fly-by-night” trucking companies have attracted scrutiny in recent years from trucking safety advocates and journalists investigating the recent upward trend in trucking accident deaths, which have increased each year since 2009.
In April, for example, Huffington Post Senior Congressional Reporter Michael McAuliff published an investigative article that detailed a number of deadly truck crashes and exposed the safety violations and regulatory rollbacks that contributed to those wrecks.
Among his conclusions, McAuliff wrote that the rapid growth of small trucking companies and solo operators, fueled by deregulation and a decline in unions, has made it much harder for regulators to find and address safety violations.
“There are now tens of thousands of small, poorly-financed new trucking companies that have great incentive to push drivers as hard as they can,” wrote McAuliff, adding that “drives for smaller outfits are especially likely to break [safety] rules.”
In 2014, the most recent year that complete data were available, 584 more people died in large truck crashes compared to 2009 — an increase of 16%. Meanwhile, small trucking companies with ten or less trucks make up 90% of today’s trucking marketplace, according to industry estimates.
Contact the Law Offices of Morgan Adams if You’ve Been Hurt in a Trucking Accident
If you or a loved one has been injured in a crash involving a large truck or bus, Truck Wreck Justice Attorney Morgan Adams is here to help. With years of experience and a sole focus on large vehicle cases, Mr. Adams is a powerful advocate for trucking accident victims and an experienced litigator who won’t hesitate to fight for your rights in court.
Please contact Truck Wreck Justice at (432) 265-2020 or fill out our online contact form if you need legal representation or assistance. We offer free consultations to help you gain a better understanding of your legal options, and we handle cases on a contingent fee basis, which means that you’ll only pay fees or case expenses if and when we achieve a monetary award or settlement on your behalf.
American Trucking Associations. (2015, December 10). ATA pleased by release of electronic logging device rule [press release]. Retrieved from http://www.trucking.org/_layouts/ATARedesign/article/ATA-Pleased-by-Release-of-Electronic-Logging-Device-Rule
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. (2015, December 10). Electronic logging devices to be required across commercial truck and bus industries [press release]. Retrieved from https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/newsroom/electronic-logging-devices-be-required-across-commercial-truck-and-bus-industries
Hansen, D. (2016, August 17). OOIDA files response in ELD court challenge. J.J. Keller & Associates. Retrieved from https://www.jjkeller.com/learn/news/082016/OOIDA-files-response-in-ELD-court-challenge
Hutchins, R. (2016, August 12). U.S. trucker lawsuit could avert electronic logging device rule. Journal of Commerce. Retrieved from http://www.joc.com/regulation-policy/transportation-regulations/us-transportation-regulations/us-trucker-lawsuit-could-avert-electronic-logging-device-rule_20160812.html
Jaillet, J. (2016, June 24). ELD lawsuit sees a wave of action as ATA, others file briefs in support of mandate. Commercial Carrier Journal. Retrieved from http://www.ccjdigital.com/eld-lawsuit-sees-a-wave-of-action-as-ata-others-file-briefs-in-support-of-mandate/
McAuliff, M. (2016, April 16). Trucks are getting more dangerous and drivers are falling asleep at the wheel. Thank Congress. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/congress-made-trucking-deadlier_us_56fd6f92e4b0a06d58052ee8
Solomon, T. (2014, March 18). Electronic logging to prevent truck crashes, protect drivers. U.S. Department of Transportation. Retrieved from https://www.transportation.gov/fastlane/electronic-logging-devices-prevent-truck-crashes-protect-drivers