Two Republican congressmen have asked federal truck-safety regulators to approve a driver owner-operator trade group's request that would grant drivers a five-year exemption from complying with a mandate to install electronic logging devices (ELDs) in their trucks, as long as the drivers meet certain requirements.
Texas Congressman Brian Babin and Iowa Congressman Steve King told the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which crafted the ELD rule, that truckers classified by the Small Business Administration (SBA) as "small businesses" that have no record of at-fault crashes and don't have an unsatisfactory safety rating under federal guidelines should not be required to meet a costly mandate that won't improve the safety of their operations. In a letter sent yesterday to FMCSA, the lawmakers said it is appropriate for the agency to grant exemptions under those circumstances, especially since it has already approved exemptions for truckers under a range of scenarios.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), which represents about 160,000 owner-operators and micro-fleets, made the exemption request last November, less than a month before the rule took effect on Dec. 18. OOIDA has bitterly opposed the ELD mandate, calling it unconstitutional, expensive, and unwarranted in terms of generating safety improvements. It fought aggressively but unsuccessfully block the rule's implementation.
Norita Taylor, an OOIDA spokeswoman, said the group can't ascertain how many drivers would be eligible under the guidelines of its exemption request.
Both lawmakers represent districts populated by owner-operators who drive to support various industries. For example, King's district, which is in the northwest part of Iowa and includes Sioux City, includes many livestock drivers who are already operating under a 90-day exemption granted by the agency in November. The Congressmen said many OOIDA members "operate on the slimmest of margins" and would be hard-pressed to financially justify the cost of devices that "provide them no economic or productivity benefits."
The ELD rule exempts operators of trucks built before the year 2000, drivers operating not more than eight days out of every 30-day period, and drivers with commercial drivers licenses (CDLs) operating in interstate commerce within 100 air miles of their work location. Last October, however, FMCSA granted five-year exemptions to Atlanta-based UPS Inc., the nation's largest transportation company, covering specific types of company operations. YRC Worldwide Inc., a less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier based in Overland Park, Kan., has also requested an exemption covering similar scenarios to UPS'.
Safety inspectors have agreed not to write out-of-service orders to drivers who don't have ELDs until April 1. In addition, FMCSA said drivers without ELDs would not have the violation count against their Compliance, Safety, and Accountability (CSA) scores through April 1. CSA measures a driver's safety performance across a variety of metrics, and infractions affecting a CSA score play a critical role in determining a driver's marketability, as well as the cost of a carrier's insurance coverage.
The mandate applies to virtually all trucks built after the year 2000. Federal regulators and the rule's supporters have said it will improve road safety by requiring drivers to operate within the hours-of-service requirements governing their workday. Under the traditional system of paper logbooks, which experts have said can be easily doctored, drivers have operated beyond the legal limits to get their loads to market on time and to generate more miles for their pay. Most of the violators, however, have usually run over the limit by a relatively short period of time. Only a minority are considered serious scofflaws.