Did a Trucking Company Admit that Drivers Cheat Hours of Service Rules?

Jeffrey CarrJune 14, 2019 6 minutes

When a commercial truck accident injury and wrongful death law firm makes claims about reckless behavior and rule breaking in the trucking industry, people rightly take such claims with a shaker full of salt. But would it change anyone's mind if the admission of outrageous behavior came from an advertisement put out by a trucking and logistics company?

Here's the story. I recently came across an article on the website for ArcBest, the 13th largest trucking and logistics company in the United States. The article focuses on the enforcement of the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate. This regulation requires all trucking companies to equip their vehicles with tamper-proof devices that automatically record hours of service. It replaces a pen and paper logbook system that dates back to the New Deal, in the 1930s.

Aside from cutting down on paperwork, it's more difficult to falsify an ELD than a paper logbook. This is a safety measure designed to more strictly and accurately enforce hours of service (HOS), which regulators designed to ensure that truck drivers don't work too much and fall asleep behind the wheel of their vehicles. Since driver fatigue plays a significant role in many commercial vehicle crashes, this concerns anyone who shares the road with commercial trucks, not just the drivers themselves.

The Arcbest article that I came across touted how the company already switched over to ELDs and that their logistics division was ready to handle any delays or capacity shortage that could arise due to the switch-over. Left unsaid is a very important question: How can switching over to electronic logging lead to a shortage of trucks on the road?

How Electronic Logging Devices Lead to a Short-Term Shortage of Trucks? The Innocent Answer

The most obvious reason for why some delays could occur with greater enforcement of the ELD mandate is that there are a lot of trucks out there that were still using paper logs and they'll be out of service while mechanics install ELDs. While the vast majority of large carriers already installed ELDs in their fleets, significant pushback against the ELD mandate means that many smaller operators waited until the very last minute to install these devices. The problem with this argument is that the article appeared in August, while the government required all trucks to install ELDs by last December.

In a similar vein, there are reports of sub-standard and malfunctioning ELDs, which require more shop time and take trucks off of the road. But this doesn't add up, because the government allowed a 3 and 1/2 month grace period between when trucks needed to install an ELD and when they began citing drivers for hours of service violations.

For ELD-related violations, the penalties include taking the truck out of service for up to 10 hours.

Another innocent reason that ELD implementation could lead to delays is that many of the kinks of the switch from paper logs were not worked out when the FMCSA and its partners started handing out hours of service violations in April. For ELD-related violations, the penalties include taking the truck out of service for up to 10 hours. Essentially, this is the regulatory equivalent of putting the truck driver and his vehicle in time-out.

If the issue is widespread, a significant number of trucks could end up sidelined, which can delay deliveries. However, it's next to impossible for law enforcement to conduct enough inspections to make this scenario a reality. Maybe there's a better explanation?

Less Innocent Ways that ELDs Can Lead to Short-Term Shipping Delays

Even if we add the time lost from ELD installation and repair to the lost hours from truck drivers placed out of service on the off chance that they have an issue with their ELDs, it doesn't strike me as enough to noticeably affect the industry to the point where it could be used as an advertising pitch. Certainly, it's not beyond possibility that Arcbest's marketing team is trying to drum up a boogeyman to scare up some new customers, but perhaps there is a much simpler explanation for why delays could occur with ELD enforcement: A fair number of drivers cheated on their paper logs.

As a truck accident injury litigation firm, we pursued dozens of cases over the years where we ultimatley discovered that a trucking company or driver manipulated their paper logbooks. While this practice isn't something that most drivers engage in, there are enough truck drivers who altered paper logs that they don't represent an inconsequential segment of the drivers on the road.

If the logs didn't accurately account for the time that truck drivers spent behind the wheel, then it's quite likely that the real world capacity of the trucking industry, exceeded its theoretical capacity.

If the logs didn't accurately account for the time that truck drivers spent behind the wheel, then it's quite likely that the real-world capacity of the trucking industry exceeded its theoretical capacity. Simply put, with the ability to cheat paper logbooks there were a number of a drivers who were able to drive more than the law says they should. ELDs make such cheating much more difficult; they eliminate the vast majority of hours that truckers were able to illegally operate before the mandate. Fewer hours on the road could easily create a dip in overall transport capacity.

How? Let's suppose that a mere 5% of the nation's 3 million commercial truck drivers engaged in these practices. That means that roughly 150,000 drivers were driving more than the law allowed. While other factors such as ELD-related down time could provide a momentary disruption to the trucking industry, it wouldn't likely be enough for a logistics company to credibly advertise that their fleet won't get caught up in such delays. In fact, the only factor that seems to have significant enough reach to cause supply chain disruptions is the loss of hundreds of thousands or millions of trucking hours that drivers can no longer illegally drive, thanks to the ELD mandate.

While Arcbest doesn't come out and say that they possess experience moving goods without cheating, it's hard to find a credible reason for the transport disruptions they warn against without thinking that they allude to logbook fabrication. In the span of a few short years, falsified logbooks have gone from a taboo topic to an implied marketing pitch.

What Does the Lack of Logbook Cheating Mean in an ELD World?

I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the vested interest that larger companies have in the ELD mandate. It imposes a cost that is more difficult for smaller trucking companies to bear, which gives the big boys an advantage. Throughout the ELD regulatory roll-out, the trade associations for large trucking companies waged war with groups that represent smaller and independent operators. The large companies welcomed the ELD mandate, while smaller groups fought it every step of the way.

Since one of the prime arguments in favor of the mandate is that it prevents truck drivers from cheating when accounting for their hours of service, large trucking companies have an interest in painting the problem in the worst possible light. If it weren't for our firm's experience in these kinds of cases, I would be far more skeptical of these claims.

At the same time, there are legitimate arguments that hours of service coupled with ELDs doesn't improve safety, as it forces truckers who have driving time available to use it, regardless of traffic conditions, foul weather, or the health of the driver. Part of the reason that I've seen many truck drivers give for falsifying logs is that they did so in order not to suffer penalties for driving in a responsible manner. If a driver pulls off in a rest area to take a nap while a road it blocked, there's a strong case to be made that he shouldn't suffer sanctions (lost driving hours) for doing something prudent.

The problem with the argument that ELDs prevent truckers from cheating in the name of safety is that many drivers were just flat-out cheating.

The problem with the argument that ELDs prevent truckers from cheating in the name of safety is that many drivers were just flat-out cheating. Those are also the drivers who are generally responsible for the vast majority of truck crashes. Forcing them to comply with hours of service rules is a win for the industry and anyone who shares the roads with commercial trunks (read: all of us). In addition, the strong case that current hours of service rules are too restrictive cannot justify even well-intentioned drivers falsifying their logbooks.

If hours of service regulations need adjustments, then it makes it much easier to do so in an environment where everyone can be reasonably sure that the hours drivers claim they're driving match the time they're actually behind the wheel. When fully implemented, ELDs offer the potential for a more open, honest conversation about what regulatory environment is safest for everyone. That's a debate that couldn't take place when it was an open secret that paper logbooks were fairy tales that many truckers told to regulators.