Thursday, March 16, 2017

New rules will change the trucking industry

Tractor trailers are ubiquitous in Niagara County. That’s because we are one of those rare communities that still makes and grows things. Factories such as General Motors and farms like Bittner-Singer Orchards ship their products and produce all over the country and it takes a steady flow of big rigs to move their wares to and fro. On top of that, the Buffalo-Niagara international bridges serve as a conduit for more than $80 billion of trade annually.

That said, for many of us working in the county, our jobs are directly impacted by trucks on a daily basis. So, it’s imperative that we be kept aware of changes in regulations that ultimately affect every one of us.

Among them is a critical one that changes the way that records are kept.

By December 18 of this year, all long-haul truckers must ditch the old paper logbooks and equip their vehicles with electronic logging devices (ELDs) per regulations issued from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA).

This is the government’s way of eliminating the cheating that was occurring on some paper logs. Fudging reports allowed many long-haul drivers to exceed the legal daily limit of 11 hours a day on the road. The ELDs take the human factor out of the equation, by hooking directly to a truck’s engine and recording movement and time.

It won’t be a cheap endeavor to implement. It is estimated that there are a half-million trucking firms in the US (many of them being independent operators) with a total of 3 million drivers falling into the long haul category. Due to the purchase cost (most units exceed $500) and installation costs of the devices, the FMCSA believes the changeover will cost $1 billion. They also say that there will be net savings for the trucking industry because it will save, per their statisticians and economists, a total of $2.4 billion in paper logs over time. 

The FMCSA believes that no matter the cost it is worth it for the lives saved. They estimate that ELDs will cut back on driver fatigue and in turn prevent 1,800 crashes, 600 injuries and more than two dozen deaths every single year. 

This new mandate does not impact the countless drivers who are not required to maintain logbooks right now. The short haul truck drivers who keep time cards and make deliveries within a 100-mile air radius can stick with business as usual.

While the ELDs represent a necessary rule change that has been a long-time coming, the Obama Administration never addressed the domino effect. With many truckers breaking the rules regarding service hours now, the loss of hours will equal less product moved and slower deliveries; it already has for Arkansas companies that had to meet that state’s 2010 mandate.  

To overcome that the industry will have to recruit more drivers, something they’ve been trying for years with limited success. You can chalk that up to an education system which for too long overemphasized college over the trades and certificates. Support for trucking went the way of mechanics, machinists, electricians and plumbers.

We need government and schools to institute a culture change to ensure that our goods are moved in a timely, efficient and cheap fashion for the long run. You like your Amazon Prime. You love having fresh produce at the grocery store. Those items get there because of truck drivers!

Remember how sexy truck driving was in the 1970s during the oil embargo and CB radio craze? How do we make it that attractive again to today’s students and tomorrow’s workers?   

From the 06 March 2017 Greater Niagara Newspapers 

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