ELD Mandate: Is FMCSA Even Capable of Doing What it Wants?
With all the stir that FMCSA is causing in the trucking industry by executing the ELD mandate, one would hope that the agency is at least well-prepared to enforce the mandate. However, it turns out that the trucking industry regulator may be looking at a tumultuous period ahead, as it approaches the deadline for the mandate. It is becoming increasingly clear that the regulator may have bitten off more than it could chew this time.
The biggest wrench in FMCSA’s plans to enforce the ELD mandate by December 18, this year, may come from those who will be most affected by it – small business truckers. These businesses, usually with less than 5 trucks, often work on such low margins that they have neither the capital nor the technological understanding to install and use the ELDs. But, their woes are not over with the installation of the devices and training their drivers. They will have to pay a regular, probably monthly, service fee for these devices that will keep eating into their profits. They would have to increase their freight rates or continue to work at lower margins. These groups will be the ones that will offer the biggest pushback against the FMCSA’s plans. And they are already coming together in large numbers.
Recently, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the sole representative body of small business truckers, laid out the facts from their side. Firstly, more than 20 states in the country are yet to implement the provisions of the ELD mandate into their state laws. Without this, the law enforcement authorities in these states do not have the necessary training and equipment to enforce compliance with the mandate.
So, will the states adopt the provisions of the mandate by December this year? It’s highly unlikely. That’s because many states have not incorporated the provisions of a number of regulations and amendments of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations into their state laws for years. All of this will hardly change in a few months.
Even if the states do incorporate the ELD mandate into their laws, can FMSCA ensure that all the truckers are able to lay their hands on an ELD device before the deadline?
Here’s the thing. ELD manufacturers produce a fixed number of devices every year that is determined by the projected demand in the market. The constant flip-flops from the lawmakers has created a certain degree of uncertainty regarding the projected demand for the ELDs, should the mandate come into force. Therefore, some manufacturers have boosted their production capacity, while the others are quite cautious about the entire thing. So, there is a very real possibility that there will be a shortage of ELD devices later this year.
Perhaps, in anticipation of such a shortage, the FMCSA has allowed smartphones, tablets, and a few other handheld devices to be used as ELDs, as long as the entire system is in compliance with the ELD requirements, which necessitate a hardwired connection to the truck’s engine.
In a nutshell, there is no doubt that FMSCA is pulling all the stops to ensure that the ELD mandate comes into full force by the end of this year. However, much will depend on what some of the states and small business truckers will do about it.