Compliance does not, and never will, equal safety

( PHOTO: JIM ALLEN/FREIGHTWAVES )

(PHOTO: JIM ALLEN/FREIGHTWAVES)

By TCA Vice President of Government Affairs Dave Heller & TCA Manager of Government Affairs Kathryn Sanner

By now, you have undoubtedly read the news that a new study by researchers from Northeastern University and the University of Arkansas suggests that electronic logging devices (ELDs) do not directly improve the safety of the trucking industry. After reading this, it is likely that you had a few reactions – possibly concern, and even outrage, if you believe what many articles in the press are saying, which is that the overarching goal of the ELD mandate was to improve safety by reducing crashes, speeding, and a litany of other safety problems.

Unfortunately, that belief is misguided, and understanding the larger picture will allow you to see this new piece of research with a clearer and more hopeful outlook. On its face, the ELD mandate’s sole goal was to improve compliance with the present hours of service (HOS) regulations promulgated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). That does not mean safety was not a factor at all – the belief by the Agency was that safety improvements would be a byproduct of better HOS compliance.

While this idea is not necessarily wrong, it is slightly off track and not fully based in reality. Theoretically, it could be true. But in the real world, drivers are feeling pressured to speed, drive while drowsy, and continue driving longer than the allotted limit when they are delayed by sitting in traffic, driving through construction zones, or detained at a shipper or receiver’s facilities.

TCA has continuously reiterated that compliance does not equal safety, and that many unintended consequences could result from solely focusing on compliance. We tell our members’ safety teams that compliance must go hand-in-hand with an overarching company culture of safety where each team member values the life and wellbeing of themselves and the others on the road above all else.

While the ELD mandate may not have immediately produced safety results, it has provided us with proof that HOS regulations need to change. FMCSA is hearing this loud and cacophonous message, which is why they are in the midst of the rulemaking process to add these desperately needed changes to the regulations. They are considering providing the ability to stop the 14-hour clock with split sleeper berth flexibility and removing the 30 minute rest break, both of which will go a long way in reducing the impetus for HOS violations. Once these regulatory changes are made, the ELD mandate truly will improve both compliance with HOS and safety on our nation’s roadways.

To reiterate, the ELD mandate is not a failure because of the results of this study. The ELD mandate is working as intended. Next stop: HOS reform.