Personal conveyance has been an issue for truckers and truck owners, and now the FMCSA has responded.
For many trucking companies, December of 2017 marked the beginning in a whole new, electronically monitored, era in trucking. December was the deadline when companies were required to provide an Electronic Logging Device (or ELD) in each truck. Though the tiny flash drive type device plugged into the engine control module of the truck does not look like much, many truckers have stated publicly that this new mandated “mini boss” has made life more difficult instead of having the intended effect of making America’s highways and byways a little safer.
Why the Mandate?
Those who support the new law insist that it makes perfect sense to replace the decades-old practice of having drivers record their own hours of service in a paper logbook. Some state that the new electronic logs will be more accurate while others insist they will be more difficult to rewrite when extra time is needed. They also insist that drivers will save time because they will not need to compile so much paperwork and that dispatchers will have a reduced workload with the ability to see all electronic information at a glance.
What is the Reality?
In reality, the hours of service that truckers are allowed to be behind the wheel have not changed. These current hours of service rules state that a driver may be on duty for 14 hours out of 24 but must then spend 10 off-duty hours before driving again. And while this sounds reasonable to most individuals, truck drivers and fleet operators know that current hours of service regulations combined with ELD regulations have brought a host of unanticipated problems. Sadly, these problems cost carriers money, time, and the ability to earn a living as kinks in the system are being worked out.
Faulty ELD Systems
Anyone who says they have never seen technology fail might not understand what technology actually is. The FMSCA reported in March of 2018 that more than 300 ELD devices on the market do not even meet the specifications needed so a driver can show logged hours to a member of law enforcement if they are pulled over. As bad as this is, it does not even begin to cover the number of units that have been sold and do not work properly.
There are too many drivers being ticketed simply because their ELD quits working at random times and they are unable to connect with the needed tech-support people. Some drivers say they have spent as many as 15 hours on the phone, both on hold and with a company representative trying desperately to get the required technology working. And this is time when the truck is still, the wheels are not allowed to roll, so no money is being made.
Add to this the fact that some ELD systems do not calculate hours or mileage correctly, some even showing that a driver is in an entirely different state and the new ELD requirement has had a very rocky start.
The “Right Now” of Electronic Logs
One basic thing that electronic logs lack is the ability to think, plan and consider as a human being might. And this leaves too many drivers dealing with a system that tells them to do x,y, or z immediately. Drivers, however, know that this is not always possible.
For instance, when a driver is heading for a place to get loaded or unloaded and the system suddenly says that the 14 hours of driving is up, the system wants the driver off the road immediately. Right now. And this is simply impossible as parking a semi for the night requires more than just pulling off the road and setting the brake.
New Personal Conveyance Guidelines
Thankfully, the FMCSA listened to what drivers were saying about not being able to find parking quickly enough to satisfy the system and published some new guidelines about personal conveyance at the end of May. Previous guidelines date back to 1997 and state that “laden” vehicles could not be used for personal conveyance (or getting to a safe parking spot).
The new regulations state there may be valid reasons for a driver to continue driving, whether there is a load on the trailer or not. The new guidelines allow for drivers to use their vehicles to get to a nearby safe parking place. To date, no limits have been set on distance but most drivers understand that they will be required to produce the ELD logs should they get pulled over, and that an officer has the right to determine if they have driven too far under the personal conveyance guidance.
Personal Conveyance Essentials
There are a few nitty-gritty parts to the new personal conveyance stipulations that drivers should know. They include:
- The new guidelines are not legally required. A carried may decide to allow or not allow personal conveyance in a company vehicle.
- If a carrier allows personal conveyance, they are not allowed to place limits on things such as number of miles or times of day.
- Clear company policy on personal conveyance should be provided to each driver.
- Personal conveyance may only be used during off-duty hours.
FMCSA is Listening to Drivers and Carriers
At the very least, the changes to personal conveyance stipulations show that the FMCSA is listening to what drivers and carriers are saying about the new electronic logbook mandate. Hopefully, things will only get better as drivers, carriers and the government work together to find solutions that will truly make the industry better for all involved.