THE ELD MANDATE – is it having unanticipated effects?

December 18th, 2017 was a controversial day for the trucking industry.

That was the day the U.S. Department of Transportation implemented a mandate requiring the vast majority of truck drivers to record their working hours using electronic logging devices (ELDs). The devices would make it more difficult for truckers to manipulate hours of service (HOS) previously recorded using handwritten paper log books. The intended purpose of ELDs was to reduce fatigue-related accidents on the road.  

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But, has the mandate achieved its purpose?

It’s a question many in the trucking industry are asking …

Have fatigued-related driving accidents dropped since the law was implemented?”

The answer is…”not really.”

The mandate’s actual results are an example of The Law of Unintended Consequences.

There are lots of examples of enacted regulations where subsequent results turned out to be different from expectations. It’s referred to as The Law of Unintended Consequences. This law, often cited but rarely defined, says that actions of people—and especially of government—always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended. 

The seat belt laws enacted by the states are one such example. While the laws DID reduce the fatalities from car crashes, the states that passed the seat belt legislation saw an increase in traffic accidents. Because people felt safer, they drove just a little more recklessly.

Similarly, unintended consequences of the ELD mandate are at play in the trucking industry.

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Surprisingly (or maybe not), ELDs have NOT reduced accidents.

A team from Northeastern University, led by Alex Scott, assistant professor of supply chain management, evaluated inspection and crash data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and found that widespread adoption of ELDs in the trucking industry has so far had no measurable impact on the number of accidents.

Their report looked at both large fleets and small fleets, comparing accident rates before and after the ELD mandate. Small carriers, which are where ELD adoption saw the largest increase from 2017-2018, were found to have no significant difference in the number of accidents.

For larger carriers, there was actually an increase in accidents after the ELD mandate.

One unintended consequence of the ELD mandate was improved compliance with HOS regulations.

What the ELD mandate HAS achieved is increased compliance with HOS regulations, with drivers of small carriers and owner-operators most affected. Large carriers had already adopted ELDs so violations of HOS regulations were infrequent prior to the mandate. Overall, the study found that HOS violations decreased by about 43.9%.

However, unsafe driving behaviors such as speeding appear to have increased over the same period of time. The unsafe driving violations by owner-operators increased by as much as 33.3% and speeding increased by as much as 31%.

In summary, the study shows the mandate has resulted in improved adherence to HOS restrictions while accident rates remain unchanged. It also indicates there has been a loss of productivity caused by the mandate. As has always been the case, drivers often have to weigh the benefits of violating hours of service vs. potential productivity loss due to unexpected delays or simply reduced earning potential that stems from a hard limit on hours.

Bill D for DriverSource