Real-Life Perspectives on Electronic Trucking Logs

Last May, we brought you news that the new federal laws regarding electronic log devices (ELDs) were being instituted earlier than expected. As of October, those laws have been put into effect. With these laws have come a stark division of opinions among truck drivers across the nation.

We recently spoke about the changes with Allie Knight, a Missoula, Mt.-based driver with Jim Palmer Trucking. Allie drives a 2016 Peterbilt 579 and cultivates a lively community through her blog and social media.

What follows is Allie’s take on the new ELD regulations.

Tell us why, as you understand it, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has mandated the change from paper log books to electronic log devices?

Honestly, they have a lot of reasons “why” — as there are a lot of hands in the pot up in Washington. To my understanding, as far as logic would allow, it is forcing accountability for the current hours of service rules in place. It’s much harder for people to cheat an electronic system. It’s also harder for carriers to push their drivers to illegal limits to make a tight schedule with a digital log.

Are you in support of this change, or against it, or neutral? Tell us about why you feel this way.

I think I’m neutral, honestly. It doesn’t change my daily routine. It would have with my previous company, which was all paper. The company I started with and this one are already all digital. I am much more accustomed to them. They’re easier.

I push two buttons when I arrive at a destination and stop driving, and I push two more when I leave. The system already knows where I am based on the GPS coordinates and already knows the correct time to log for me. It’s simpler, less for me to think about.

Paper logs, you have to graph your time, round up or down to the nearest fifteen, figure out what city and state you’re in, make adjustments for time zones…it’s much more work that eats up a lot of time I’d rather not spend on books.

It sounds like I’m pretty pro-legislation, but I’m not. I don’t like that the federal government has its hands in everything; I really don’t. This should be something the industry itself mandates, not the federal government. But I’ve always been very anti-federal government in that concern. Let the people and the states make their own decisions and take responsibility, stop babying us. Life is hard and full of challenges, let us as people make those decisions.

How do you see this change affecting your company on a day-to-day basis?

I don’t, which is great for me. I can see it affecting a LOT of other smaller businesses. Owner operators, old-school drivers.

How have other truckers that you know responded to the legislation?

Most drivers I do know are already on electronic, but I’m part of the next generation of drivers. The ones that are on paper are very cross with the idea. They’ve made threats: “I’ll stop driving the day those become law,” or “You aren’t putting one of those things in my truck,” “You can’t make any money on one of those things”—which isn’t true. You make money every time you deliver freight; it’s about how you manage your time and less about fudging the book.

ELDs have been around for a long time as mobile apps that truckers could use if they wanted to. Have you ever used one of these? Why or why not?

I’ve never used one myself, but I have run into some Owner-Ops that have been using them. They swear by them. A couple are very similar to paper logs where you can edit anything; some are not.

At the time I was introduced to them, I already had an electronic system company issued in the truck, so I had no need. The next company I worked for was all paper, and that was a hassle enough—I didn’t need to fill out the same information in two books (one paper and one electronic). Time is worth a lot on the road, and I am very picky how I choose to spend it.

Supporters of the change say that it would bring more accountability to the trucking industry—what kind of accountability do you see that it could provide?

Yes, it will, hopefully. Every new set of laws is going to bring about a dark shadow industry of ways to get around those laws. I think it will be good for both driver accountability and carrier accountability.

The smaller companies are going to be the ones that get hit the hardest. The ones that refuse to adapt, or have their whole business model based around running illegally. Those ones will have the hardest time with this change. The miles are going to drop off, the profits are going to drop, they’re either going to have to adapt or close up or cheat.

I’m not interested in running myself into the ground on four hours of sleep a night and 16-hour days, I’m just not. I’d like to keep myself in working condition so I can work longer. I’m kind of like a marathon runner rather than a short distance sprinter. It’ll take me longer, but I’ll go farther. I won’t get to a million miles in two years, but I might make five or six million rather than be medically unfit to drive because I burned myself out.

Opponents of the legislation have said that carriers use the electronic logs to harass drivers, potentially affecting safety. Can you explain how they might use ELDs to harass drivers?

Carriers are going to harass drivers if that’s how the culture is run. Yes, an e-log can make it look like you should be ready to start running at 11:30 p.m. when in reality you haven’t even laid your head down to sleep yet. I’ve been there. Getting a phone call at midnight asking if you want to take a load at 2:30 a.m. and drive from Philly to Baltimore, and I haven’t even gone to bed yet. Mostly because the dispatcher before (since there’s a day shift and a night shift) told me I probably wouldn’t get a load until the next morning, anyway.

I at least had the nerves to say no, I won’t take it (I hadn’t slept yet)—I’ve proven to my company that I know how to manage my clock and deliver my loads on time and safely, so they tend to let me run my truck the way I want to. I earned that privilege.

If you don’t know how to manage your time, of course dispatch is going to be on your butt; that’s their job. The two companies I’ve worked for with e-logs have been really good about letting me run my truck my way because I do the job legally.

Some owner-operators hinted that if the legislation went through, they may not stay in the business. Why do you think the legislation inspires such an extreme response for those people?

People don’t like change. Which is weird because the only constant in life is change. It’s what life is based on, changing and evolving. But somehow, we as a species don’t seem to enjoy the prospect of new and different.

Some people are incapable of adjusting to new technology and shifts in industries. We’ve watched a lot of jobs flourish and fizzle for centuries. Old-school drivers like their old-school ways. Some of them don’t want to adapt to a GPS system, and now we’re going to ask them to use another electronic device?

I’ve seen a lot of drivers out here with flip phones still.

Some drivers are also built to make money on running illegally. They don’t know how to run legally and make money to survive. They’ve adapted their budget to expect an income that is generated with long hours and little rest.

Yes, a lot of small businesses and owner ops are going to come off the road. Some will come back, but some won’t. And honestly, some of that old-school thinking needs to go. It’s not a boys’ club anymore. The next generation of drivers is stepping up to the plate. We’re going to bring new tools and new ideas and new methods, and that’s okay. The bottom line is getting the freight delivered safely, securely, and without killing the driver slowly via unhealthy habits.

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