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How Do Trucking Companies Cheat Electronic Logging Devices?

The regulations requiring truck drivers to rest after an interval of work are called hours of service (HOS) rules. Most modern truck drivers' hours of service are now monitored by federally-required Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs), which use data from an active 18-wheeler to create a picture of its movement and its driver's activity over a period of time. Much to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)'s chagrin, however, some truck drivers and their employers find ways to tamper with the ELDs' data. How do they accomplish that?

Answer: The most common way that truckers cheat with their ELDs is to feed bogus data into the machine.

The Rule

. . . A motor carrier operating commercial motor vehicles must install and require each of its drivers to use an ELD to record the driver's duty status . . . no later than December 18, 2017.

49 CFR 395.8(a)(1)(i)

A driver must provide the information the ELD requires as prompted by the ELD and required by the motor carrier.

49 CFR 395.24(a)

How Is ELD Information Manipulated?

Electronic reports are harder to tinker with than paper logs, but truck drivers in certain online forums shared some "purely theoretical" suggestions for how to defraud their monitors:

  • Some suggested unplugging their ELDs, switching to the more easily-manipulated paper logs, and citing equipment malfunctions if pulled over.
  • Others mentioned using another person's ELD login when they neared the end of their own available service hours, turning over control to a "ghost driver."
  • Still others suggested trying to report travel time as something else in the system—like Personal Conveyance, where they claimed to be driving the truck in a non-business capacity.

In every case the idea was to add more drive time while disguising it from anyone without the training and experience to spot the problem—and each suggestion was quickly followed by many responsible truckers urgently advising against it.

There's also the matter of what trucking companies do (or fail to do) with a driver's reports. According to the FMCSA a common violation by motor carriers is failing to ensure a driver’s ELD record is accurate, which they're required to verify. Some also fail to review or properly annotate records of unidentified or unassigned driving time, and in some cases ELD software settings have been adjusted by a company to give their fleets greater latitude about what the device reports.

Why Do Truck Drivers Tamper with ELD Data?

While it seems good to ensure hard-working truckers get down time, some drivers and companies view hours of service compliance mostly as a nuisance. But why?

Judging from talk we observed in the forums we mentioned above, some truckers see hours of service requirements mostly as bureaucrats trying to control an industry they don't understand or take part in. Most drivers' income derives from miles covered and jobs completed, and putting a timer on either strikes many as a costly imposition on them rather than a boon for public safety.

As for companies' resistance to the regulations, that one's pretty easy to grasp: Limits on how far they can push their drivers eat into delivery times and therefore profits. Most companies accept the restrictions (if grudgingly), but some try to find ways around them—or just brazenly disobey.

Not long ago we worked on a case where we learned a company routinely pushed its drivers beyond their limits and told its dispatchers to "fix" any resulting HOS complications. One of their drivers fell asleep on hour 20 of a long haul, far past his permitted hours of service, and crashed, killing his passenger. When we deposed the driver, he told us about the company's policy of giving routes to rule-breakers and taking them away from those who didn't play ball. A choice between obeying regulations and putting food on the table is no choice at all, so he did as instructed and tragedy followed.

Whatever compels a driver or company to seek ways to cheat the system, the result is dangerously-tired people in 80,000-pound trucks putting everyone at risk. Nevertheless, to squeeze the most out of a trip some drivers and companies do what they can to get around ELD restrictions.

How Does That Cheating Affect Truck Accident Victims?

Despite federal laws demanding they take rest breaks, drowsy truck drivers cause a statistically-significant number of traffic accidents every year. Proving they violated their hours of service gets tricky if they and their employer point to ELD data showing the driver followed the rules, but closer audits from those who know what to look for sometimes find discrepancies or alterations to the ELD and its readouts. Proving someone tampered with the device or its output to allow "wiggle room" on service hours would be an important step in proving negligence.

If all that sounds a little complicated, well, it usually is. A truck accident victim's main priority should simply be healing from their injuries, so it's a big ask that they quickly obtain a truck's tracking data AND know how to read it. That's where having an experienced attorney on their side can be invaluable: A good lawyer will move quickly to secure all relevant evidence about an 18-wheeler crash, then will bring in the right experts to analyze it.

The Texas truck accident attorneys at Grossman Law Offices have decades of combined experience helping victims and families hurt by 18-wheeler wrecks. If you were hurt or lost a loved one in a collision with a tractor-trailer and aren't sure what to do, call Grossman Law any time for a free consultation.

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