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FMCSA mandates electronic logging devices (ELDs) in newer semi-trucks, buses

Written by Steve Gursten Posted April 20th, 2016

New rule requires commercial motor vehicles to be equipped with ELDs to combat hours of service violations. But attorneys wonder, will rule still accomplish goals when potential for abuses like the “yard move” exist?

electronic logging device, image

Finally, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released its long-awaited rule, which mandates that all commercial motor vehicles (ie. semi-trucks and motor coaches) be equipped with electronic log devices (ELDs).  For truck accident attorneys who have seen and written so much about the abuses that exist with the old paper log books (or “lie books,” as so many truckers refer to them), this new rule was a long time in coming.  The new safety mandate was finally implemented in January of 2016.

Electronic logging devices are attached to the engines of commercial motor vehicles to capture speed, distance and driver location data. They also usually require driver interaction — to provide duty status details or vehicle inspection information, for instance. The data captured can help provide critical assessments of fleet and truck driver performance. The technology can help prevent truck accidents and identify unsafe truck drivers.

The rule mandates that all CMVs manufactured after the year 2000 be equipped with an ELD. The goal is to reduce hours-of-service violations, which leads to fatigue, which leads to serious or fatal truck accidents.

There are certain exemptions that are not required for short haul vehicles. But generally, the majority of commercial motor vehicles will be affected.

The ELD must also be certified. To be certified, the device must meet certain technical specifications outlined by the agency. A list of certified ELD devices is available on the agency website.

Although the new ELD safety rule is a step in the right direction and will help to reduce the number of truck crashes and people injured and killed by truck driver fatigue, many experienced truck accident attorneys still anticipate problems. For example, to be “certified,” all an ELD vendor or manufacturer has to do is go onto the website and self-certify, based on an honor system.

The agency does not inquire at all into whether or not an ELD device actually meets the requirements as set forth under the mandate. This leaves the door open for mistakes, or even worse, deliberate abuse so that dangerous vendors or trucking companies can use ineffective ELDs to evade the hours of service rules.

Attorneys: Beware of the “yard move”

Another provision of the rule allows for a “yard move” event. It’s important to understand a yard move is not a duty status, it is an event that a truck driver can enter into the ELD. Since the ELD begins collecting data and adjusts record of duty statuses based upon movement, the fear is that when a truck is being moved around the yard, or being moved for maintenance, it may count against a truck driver’s drive time under the hours of service regulations. This is why the yard move event was created; when a driver is in the yard and/or moving the truck for maintenance, he or she can switch to a “yard move” on the ELD and the time will not be counted against the driver’s drive time. The yard move will still count against on-duty hours.

I know sadly from over 20 years of litigating truck accident cases, that where there is a potential for abuse, some bad actors in the trucking industry will try to take advantage. And intentional abuses, often at the direction of company safety directors, directly contributes to some of the worst truck crashes I litigate (I could share some toe-curling stories about what many truckers have told me that the company or company safety director threatened them with if they didn’t violate certain regulations, the most common being to drive over hours). What lawyers who care and promote industry safety most fear is that truck drivers could use the yard move event to dupe the system and as a way to now drive in excess of the mandatory hours of service.

As of this writing, there’s no definition of what a “yard move” event is, and there’s no time limit on how long a trucker can run on a “yard move.” What if a truck driver is moving product from one company facility to another company facility that’s two hours away? Is that a yard move?

And that’s the problem. What constitutes a “yard move” as of now seems solely to exist at the discretion of the truck driver…until a crash occurs and someone is injured and killed. And then either myself or another attorney may one day be asking this same question to a jury.

This is an important rule. It will, as I said above, certainly help to make our roads safer.  Still, there is room for error and abuse.

Steve Gursten

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Truck Accident Litigation Group. Steve has been named a Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. He was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case, as well as for recovering the top auto and truck verdict in four of the past eight years. He is a "Top 100 Super Lawyer," is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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