With little time to go and few options left before the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration’s electronic logging device (ELD) mandate goes into effect, truck drivers opposed to the mandate took to the streets – and to truck stops – across the country Monday to bring greater attention to the mandate and to their arguments against it.
The protests, which took place at more than 40 locations across the country, were organized in part by the Small Business in Transportation Coalition (SBTC).
The FMCSA’s ELD Final Rule, which applies to most motor carriers and drivers who are required to maintain records of duty status (RODS), was published in December 2015 and requires trucks to be equipped and logs to be kept with ELDs as of December 18. Among the few exceptions are trucks already equipped with automatic onboard recording devices (AOBRDs), which have until December 2019 to switch to ELDs.
While many companies had already been using ELDs and others used the two-year window to prepare for the deadline, another portion of the industry – mostly small carriers and independent owner-operators and the organizations that represent them – have spent the past two years trying to get the mandate reversed or at least delayed. Legal options have been exhausted, and attempts at legislative relief have stalled. A bill by Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, has yet to make it to the House floor for a vote.
Monday’s protests were something of a follow-up to a letter sent by the SBTC on November 20 to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao requesting an exemption for all motor carriers with fewer than 50 employees, to reconsider the mandate on First Amendment grounds and to grant a stay on the December 18 effective date until the secretary rules on the SBTC petition.
A press release by SBTC president James Lamb announcing nationwide protests touted them as a “media blitz” to draw greater public awareness to the ELD issue. While ELDs have been the biggest issue in trucking during the past year, the general public has virtually no knowledge of the topic.
The apparent strategy was for the protests to introduce the ELD issue and to make their case to the general public to drum up public support to tip the scales and to convince the DOT and/or Congress to act in their favor.
Among the arguments, some of which were included in the letter to Chao and repeated in Lamb’s press release, was the contention that forcing drivers to use ELDs rather than the paper logs they’d been using violates their right to commercial free speech. Another is that while the FMCSA’s Final Rule makes it mandatory that trucks be equipped with ELDs, there’s nothing in the wording that actually demands they must be used over paper logs.
In interviews with various news outlets, drivers raised talking points that have become familiar within the industry, that mandating ELDs places an unfair financial burden on small carriers compared with large fleets, that mandate is less about safety as it has been presented but is more about strict enforcement of Hours of Service rules in such a rigid way that will cause more problems than it remedies, that ELDs represent an invasion of privacy, and that the ELD mandate is a one-size-fits-all rule in an industry where business as usual has far too many variations from one carrier to the next for such blanket rules.
The protests did garner some mainstream media attention, particularly local media outlets that covered protests in their areas. Many of the arguments ELD opponents have been making and refining for the past two years were heard by a new audience through interviews with individual drivers at those protests.
In a press release Wednesday, Lamb declared the blitz a success.
“We did what we set out to do. Media came, and the drivers spoke – very well, mind you,” Lamb said.
The press release went on to say that the protest organizers were hitting the phones Wednesday, contacting the White House and members of Congress to drill home their anti-ELD message.
The press release suggested the group may try to stage a shutdown December 18 through January 4 to protest the mandate. Lamb stated in the press release that the SBTC “is not involved in such efforts,” but he “doubted there is much anyone can do at this point to stop such a drastic move” unless Chao grants the emergency stay SBTC requested in its letter.
David Heller, vice president of government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association, commented that with the ELD mandate just days away, “it’s crunch time,” and opponents are scrambling to find ways to be heard, including the protests, the Chao letter November 20 and at a hearing a day later of the House Small Business Committee.
In football terms, Heller said, it’s late in the game and they’re throwing “Hail Marys.”
“The reason they are listening to them is that every once in a while, one of those Hail Mary’s are caught,” Heller said. “Ask Doug Flutie about that.”