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DOT sends message that truckers must stop lying

Written by Steve Gursten Posted March 30th, 2015

DOT is pushing final rule mandating use of electronic logging devices to track truck driver miles, duty status

electronic on board recorder

To be fair, the Department of Transportation (DOT) did not actually tell truckers they must stop lying. But that’s certainly the backdrop for the transition from paper logs to electronic logs.

Obviously, not all truckers lie. As an attorney, I like and respect the vast majority of truckers I’ve met.  This is a tough job, and truckers are good, hardworking people. I’ve been honored to represent a number of truckers as their attorney when they’re injured in accidents caused by passenger cars (did you know most truck accidents are caused by the driver of the passenger car, not the truck driver?).

But there is a serious problem with how paper logs and log books (lie books, as many truckers derisively call them) are used. And time and again in my own cases, I’ve reviewed paper logs that have clearly been falsified.

Now the DOT is sending a strong message that it wants truck drivers to stop lying on their log books. The department (which is well-known for delays), is moving up the expected publication date for a Final Rule mandating the use of electronic logging devices to September 30, 2015.  The measure will go into effect two years after publication.

Electronic logging devices are based upon technology that eliminates the need for paper logs. The recorder is tied to the actual truck, sensing its location and operational data. The driver logs in, and when the truck is turned on and as soon as the truck moves, the system will know when the truck is moving, when it’s stopped, and for how long. The ELD will pull this information from the truck’s black box and a location-based system like GPS.

This technology will make it a lot harder for truckers or safety directors to manipulate log books, as I’ve seen so often in cases where truckers are over hours or were speeding.

And as the data is recorded real time, there are huge opportunities for trucking companies to improve safety.  These commercial carriers will now be better able to monitor trucks and stop unsafe drivers who are speeding or over hours of service.

Commercial transportation carriers should be forewarned: They should monitor their fleet and drivers for the right reasons (safety of the driver and the public) or the wrong reasons (fear of lawsuits and expanded punitive damages claims).  For make no mistake, experienced trucking attorneys will use this ELD data as the basis for negligent supervision and negligent monitoring claims when a company could easily have stopped a driver who was breaking the law and endangering the public, but then chose to ignore  it instead.

The cost of the device is expected to be between $200-832 per truck.

The rule has four parts:

1.  Requirement to use electronic log devices:

  • Applies to all drivers who are required to keep paper logs eight or more days out of 30 days.
  • All trucks must be equipped with ELDs two years after effective date of rule. There appears to be a provision extending this deadline for companies that are already using approved “automatic onboard recording devices.”

2. Protections against driver harassment:

  • Proposed safeguards against harassment in the new rule include expanded drivers’ access to records, explicit wording about carriers harassing drivers, implementing a complaint procedure, stiffening penalties for those who do harass drivers, “edit rights” for drivers, limitations on location tracking, mute functionality for the devices and preserving driver confidentiality in enforcement proceedings.

3. Hardware specifications:

  • More technologically advances that those required by 2010 Rule.
  • The new Rule requires the device to be tied into the truck’s engine (to capture power status, motion status, miles driven and engine hours) and a location system as well as have safeguards against tampering.

4. The Hours of Service documentation that drivers will need to carry after the mandate goes into effect:

  • For every 24-hour period the driver is on duty, carriers must maintain no more than 10 supporting documents from either of these categories:
    • Bills of lading, itineraries, schedules or other documents that show trip origin and destination,
    • Dispatch records, trip records or similar documents,
    • Expense receipts,
    • Electronic mobile communication records sent through fleet management systems, or
    • Payroll records, settlement sheets or similar documents that show what and how a driver was paid.

The legal controversy surrounding paper logs

Before ELDs,  truckers have been required to use paper logs and the 24-hour log, listing themselves in four different categories of duty status:

  1. On duty driving: On the road
  2. In-sleeper berth: Sleeping
  3. On duty not driving: Inspections, gas, loading and unloading
  4. Off duty.

With these paper logs, attorneys and law enforcement often had to rely only on the honesty of the truck driver filling out the logs, and the honesty of the company that’s charged by law with the auditing of these logs (this is often done by cross-checking the paper logs against fuel and toll receipts, restaurant receipts, etc).

I’m particularly pleased with the new proposed protections against driver harassment. Many trucking companies have put  pressure on truckers to lie, or to violate the law, so they can increase their bottom lines. It puts these drivers in an incredibly tough position. I’ve helped many of them, who have contacted me looking for direction.

Electronic on board recorders cannot be tampered with as paper logs have been in the past.

The trucking lobby’s stance

The American Trucking Associations (ATA) supported this rule development. The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has opposed it.

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, 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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