Will Electronic Logging Device Requirements Spell the End for Small U.S. Carriers?

By December 2017, all commercial trucks in the U.S. must be equipped with electronic logging devices. Most large to medium sized carriers have or are well on their way to installed ELDs in their fleet. Small carriers, however, seem to be particularly resistant to this policy change, which was designed to minimize and track hours of service violations.

Many company’s concerns about ELDs stem from a potential loss of revenue. A bare minimum 5% loss of revenue is expected at the policy’s implementation. While losses aren’t expected to continue for an extended period, small carriers are expected to be hit the hardest. The hand-to-mouth existence of some small carriers means that a 5% hit could mean the difference between trucking another day and closing up shop, not to mention the additional cost of installing the devices.

Carriers are also concerned about maintain their level of service. This is understandable, considering the several cases I saw when ELDs were installed at my own company of drivers incorrectly logging both 30 minute and 36 hour breaks, leading to a driver being forced to retake their break and log it properly in order to avoid a HOS violation. If a carrier only has five drivers, being down one for an extra 36 hours could make a drastic impact on level of service and potentially cause late loads. ELDs definitely come with a rather extensive learning curve and smaller carriers with long-time drivers seem particularly reticent to tackle it.

Nobody likes to talk about logbook fudging, but I think it is an important aspect when discussing ELD policy. It is trucking’s dirty little open secret, the proverbial elephant in the room, if you will. You can’t falsify log records as easily on an ELD, which is part of the reason they are being implemented. Without fancy finagling of logbooks, certain drivers and carriers are bound to see a reduction in miles traveled and therefore revenue. The elimination of flexibility in hours of service regulations is scary, particularly to smaller carriers, for whom HOS violations could be devastating.

Many drivers at larger carriers who didn’t care for the idea of electronic logging devices changed their tune after using them for a short time. Change is always difficult, especially in the trucking industry where so many policy changes have been passed down by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in the past few years. It stands to reason that this change will not be the doomsday that some drivers and carriers predict, just like the last few big changes in the industry.

It’s a fact that many small carriers aren’t taking well to the idea of electronic logging devices. Many drivers and carriers alike are fed up with what they perceive as an over-regulated trucking industry and the FMCSA, in general. A www.truckstop.com survey of more than 1300 carriers (most of whom run five or fewer trucks), most had yet to install ELDs. In one broker’s survey of their broker network, 14% of small carriers said they intended to shut down rather than comply with the new requirements. Of 2,300 independent truckers surveyed by Randall-Reilly, better than 70% said they would quit driving before complying with the ELD mandate. Whether that resolve holds when it comes down to the actual date of policy implementation remains to be see.