Sustainability Infrastructure

Closing an important loophole on one of America’s most dangerous jobs

a photo of trucks on the road

Story at a glance

  • In the past, truck drivers recorded their time on the road with paper and pen, which allowed some to skirt the rules and drive longer.
  • Drivers are allowed a period of 14 consecutive hours in which to drive up to 11 hours after being off duty for 10 or more consecutive hours.
  • On Dec. 16 more trucks have to carry electronic logging devices, which record activity and make it harder to cheat.

After Ruben Foster recently lost his job at a bank while also going through a divorce, he took a part-time role at an Amazon warehouse filling empty trailers with heavy boxes to support his children. That’s where he got the idea to learn to drive a truck. “Everything coming into and leaving Amazon was in a truck. I thought, ‘I could do that and make more money.’ I signed up for trucking school,” the Virginia man says. 

For the past year, Foster has been driving for a tractor trailer company carrying loads all across the country. 

“Ultimately, I am out here to make money, but more importantly, is to make it home in one piece. It ranks in the top 10 most dangerous jobs every year; it’s just the nature of it — 80-thousand pounds of vehicle and freight,” says Foster.

Keeping the roads safer for everyone, including truck drivers like Foster, is the reason for a Dec. 16, 2019 final deadline by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) mandating all carriers and drivers who are required to do so to transition to electronic logging devices (ELD). By and large, almost all long-haul trucks are impacted. Specifics on who must comply, along with exemptions, can be found in this outline by the FMCSA.

But generally, it includes trucks and tractor trailers involved in interstate commerce which:

• Weigh (including any load) 10,001 pounds or more, or

• Have a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more, or

• Are transporting hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placards.

The purpose of the FMCSA for implementing the ELD rule is to reduce the number of accidents by exhausted drivers trying to log more miles to get a bigger paycheck. 

Foster says he’s heard the stories from some truckers who’ve been on the road for years. “Before GPS technology, you could write down on your paper log that you drove for 11 hours — but really people were driving more,” he says he’s been told. “It was easy to cheat the system, and it was harder to get caught. Now that all trucks are converting to electronic logs, you can’t cheat.” 

According to the FMCSA, “drivers are allowed a period of 14 consecutive hours in which to drive up to 11 hours after being off duty for 10 or more consecutive hours.” That’s long been the case, only now an ELD is able to “monitor a vehicle’s engine to capture data on whether the engine is running, whether the vehicle is moving, miles driven, and duration of engine operation (engine hours). With an ELD, law enforcement can review a driver’s hours of service by viewing the ELD’s display screen, by a printout from the ELD, and in the near future by retrieving data electronically from the ELD.”

Converting to the ELDs will keep truck drivers honest and safer, says Jeremy Kirkpatrick, vice president of advocacy communications for American Trucking Associations. In 2018, there were 3.5 million professional truck drivers in the U.S., Kirkpatrick notes. 

The new ELD rule actually went into effect on Dec. 18, 2017. However, carriers using automatic on-board recording devices (AOBRD) were grandfathered in for two years. “AOBRDs function similarly to ELDs but might not meet all of the functional parameters defined in the ELD rule,” says Kirkpatrick. “So, December 16, 2019 is the final compliance deadline for fleets still using grandfathered AOBRDs to make the full transition to FMCSA-compliant ELDs.”

Since the December 2017 ELD implementation, hours-of-service violations have decreased, according to Kirkpatrick. “In December 2017, approximately 1.19 percent of driver inspections resulted in an HOS violation of either the daily or weekly driving limits. That number fell to 0.69 percent in April 2018 and, as of July 2019, further decreased to 0.55 percent — half of the violation rate prior to ELD requirements,” he says.

In addition, Kirkpatrick notes that a 2014 study commissioned by FMCSA found that ELD-equipped carriers saw an 11.7 percent reduction in crash rate and a 50 percent drop in hours-of-service violations. “The study revealed that, compared to outdated pen-and-paper methods of tracking driver hours, this modern-day technology is more accurate, easier to enforce, more difficult to falsify and will ultimately save lives,” he says.

Kirkpatrick also adds, “It’s important to remember that the ELD rule did not change underlying hours-of-service rules — it simply changed how driver hours are logged. No driver or carrier who honestly logs their hours needed to change anything other than the manner in which they record their hours of service — moving from inaccurate, time-consuming, manual paper logs to more precise, automatic, electronic ones.”

Some 71.4 percent of all freight tonnage is moved on the nation’s highways, according to the ATA. Although the ELD rule is focused on making the highways safer, according to some truck drivers “admit to speeding to beat the ELD clock” and also to meet delivery deadlines. also reports that “deaths from large truck crashes reached their highest level in 29 years in 2017, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data.”

“According to NHTSA, there were 4,951 people killed in crashes involving large trucks in 2018. It’s important to bear in mind that 70 percent of fatal crashes involving a large truck are caused by the passenger motorists, according to FMCSA,” Kirkpatrick says. 

The FMSCA is hoping new technology such as the ELDs will have a positive impact in the long run in making sure drivers are not driving while sleep deprived. The FMCSA also emphasizes the crucial importance for drivers to travel at safe speeds.

In the meantime, Foster gets an assignment from his trucking company to help out with a load at the Amazon warehouse, which is flowing with holiday packages. While there, he reflects on how the truck driving position has helped his life after losing his banking job. “Exactly one year ago I was working at this very Amazon warehouse filling empty trailers with boxes. It was hard wor,k and they paid me $300 per week. I was behind on child support. Fast forward one year later, and I’m getting paid 4.5 times that amount to move this trailer to Staten Island. When life kicks your ass you kick back,” he says about positively persevering for the long haul in life.

As always, Foster says he plans to follow all the trucking safety rules and guidelines. He wants to get back home safely to be with his loved ones.