Are ELDs being implemented for the right reasons?

by Al Goodhall

Implementing the use of electronic logging devices (ELDs) may be the start of a perfect storm within the North American trucking industry. This law will force all drivers to work to rule. Authorities cite improving road safety as the primary reason for this legislation. Amidst all the discussion and debate surrounding this topic, that’s the predominant message. It’s a weak one at best.

The trucking industry has a big problem. People have always been attracted to truck driving for the independence and freedom that it offers. You don’t have anyone looking over your shoulder and you have the ability to manage yourself. It’s the closest you will get to being self-employed while still enjoying the benefits of being an employee. It’s a great gig in that regard, and that was the big attraction that drew me into this line of work.

But the management style for many large companies over the past decade has been to employ a big stick and drive their fleets from the front office. By micro-managing each power unit, costs could be reduced and profits maximized.

Enter big data and the tools it needed to collect all those data points. But these tools and this style of management has taken control away from the driver. Drivers have been disempowered. This is why independent drivers are so opposed to the implementation of ELDs. They are seen as an unnecessary financial burden and a threat to their way of life. If I was an independent business owner running a couple of trucks, what would be the benefit?

I’m not saying there are not any benefits to switching to a digital system. What I’m saying is that those benefits have never been sold. The choice has always been to implement the big stick. But it doesn’t have to be so.

It’s been about six years since I first tested an automatic on-board recording device (AOBRD). I’ve never used a paper log since, and have no desire to go back to using one. Logging my time electronically has proven to be a huge benefit. But discovering those benefits took some time.

A good business plan requires some foresight. The leaders within our company recognized the technology trend many years ago and started to implement change on their own timeline. Now ELDs are simply another tool we use in our daily business.

I don’t think there is a single driver in our organization that sees an ELD as being intrusive or contributing to Big Brother syndrome – the feeling that you are always watched and need to be on your guard. The bottom line is that there is a high degree of trust across our organization. That is powerful.

There is no doubt in my mind that ELDs have been deployed by many companies to give them eyes into the cab of every one of their trucks with a short-term goal of increasing profitability. In the long term, this way of thinking has saddled the industry with a crippling shortage of qualified drivers. Why is the broader industry blind to the simple fact that people want to be treated well and compensated fairly?

The ELD debate raging across social media highlights how deep the divide is between drivers and management/legislators. That’s the issue that should be addressed if we want to improve road safety.

As I’ve been working on this column we have experienced another horrific accident on Hwy. 400 here in Southern Ontario. It was a fiery inferno that resulted in three more deaths. This isn’t something that will be prevented from happening by employing ELDs in every commercial vehicle. We can only reach zero deaths on our highways if drivers are engaged and focused 100% of the time. That will never be achieved with forced compliance to a set of rules.

My sense is that driver morale across the industry has never been lower. The ELD mandate is only adding to that anxiety.

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