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Strategy Truck drivers say the latest measure to keep roads safe has left them 'chained up,' 'more reckless than ever,' and unable to support their families

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Supporters of the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, which came into effect in December 2017, say it's crucial for enforcing labor laws and preventing accidents on the road. But truck drivers say it's making roads less safe and life more miserable for them.

The main appeal of truck driving is the freedom, drivers say, and that's been curtailed with this latest mandate. play

The main appeal of truck driving is the freedom, drivers say, and that's been curtailed with this latest mandate.

(Dennis Van Tine/MediaPunch/IPX)

  • Truckers aren't happy with the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, a new US rule that effectively made it impossible for drivers to work more hours than the legally mandated limit.
  • Supporters of the law say the ELD mandate is crucial for enforcing labor laws and preventing accidents on the road.
  • But as a result of the ELD mandate, truck drivers told Business Insider that their salaries are taking a hit, their independence is being curtailed, and they can't find places to park and sleep.

The US government is forcing Steven Wright to take naps.

The 47-year-old college graduate has been a long-haul truck driver since 1995. He used to set his own schedule during his nearly-100-hour work weeks: he would drive for eight hours, take a nap for four to six hours as the receiving company slowly unloaded his truck, and then drive for another five or so before a proper sleep.

That's no longer possible. Since December of last year, drivers like Wright have been required to keep an electronic logging device (ELD) in their trucks to ensure they don't drive for more than 11 hours a day, only work for 14 hours a day total, and take regular breaks.

"The longer you spend on the road, the more money you get," said Wright, who lives in the Northeastern Ohio town of Cuyahoga Falls. Due to the ELD, Wright and other drivers said they aren't able to drive as much as they used to.

The rule, which came into effect in December 2017, arose from safety concerns, but Wright said it's not practical.

Truckers are paid by the mile, but usually don't spend a full 11 hours driving. They might spend six unpaid hours at unloading sites, which cuts into how many hours they spend driving and earning money. With the cap now set at 14 hours of overall work a day, Wright is unable to squeeze in an extra five hours of driving after unloading his truck.

In addition, Wright said drivers are also forced to take 30-minute breaks every eight hours, even if they just spent six of those hours at an unloading site.

A few hours here and there add up over time. Wright said squeezing in an extra 1,000 miles in a week translates to $450.

What's more, because nearly everyone takes their 10-hour breaks at the same time, Wright said parking is scarce at trucker stops. There's nowhere for drivers to park the trucks they'll sleep in for weeks, he said.

"Nobody actually listens to us," Wright told Business Insider. "People in Washington, DC, or wherever they are, make these rules."

While the ELD mandate was designed to lessen driver fatigue and make the roads safer, in practice, the ELD mandate has lowered productivity, according to freight exchange service DAT solutions and supply chain management company Zipline Logistics. It's also raised the cost of shipping.

And it's especially angered truck drivers, which number 1.8 million nationwide.

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(Business Insider/Andy Kiersz, data from Highway Loss Data Institute)

The electronic logging device rule was designed to protect drivers' safety

The ELD rule came into effect in December 2017 under a larger act passed by Former President Barack Obama in 2012. Called MAP-21, the act was the first highway legislation with long-term provisions since 2005.

MAP-21 set aside $105 billion for new programs improving existing highways, restructuring federal transportation programs, and "supporting Department of Transportation's (DOT) aggressive safety agenda."

One component of that agenda was the ELD mandate, which became mandatory in December, 2017. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimated in 2014 that ELDs could prevent up to 1,714 crashes, 522 injuries, and 24 deaths each year.

"The theory is that drivers are working longer hours to make more money, which is causing them to drive while exhausted, which poses a safety risk on the roads," Andrew Lynch, the cofounder and president of Columbus-based supply chain company Zipline Logistics, told Business Insider.

The hours of service rules haven't actually changed, according to Collin Mooney, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, which oversees the coordination of commercial vehicle safety enforcement across the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

The only thing that's changed is that these hours are now tracked electronically rather than by paper and pen.

"Drivers in general are covering fewer miles in a day than they were before the ELD mandate," Lynch said. "The little cheats and fudges they could pull off on their log books before the mandate went live are no longer available to the large population of drivers that were running on paper logs."

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(David McNew/Getty Images)

In practice, drivers say they're becoming more reckless

Nashville area resident Steve Manley, 51, has been driving for more than 20 years. He said the ELD hasn't benefitted drivers' safety.

"The electronic logs are supposed to make it safer, but really it has created a hazardous race to beat the clock," Manley told Business Insider. "Drivers are now more reckless than ever trying to make it to their destination before the clock runs out with the mandatory breaks and such."

"The DOT says it's to prevent driver fatigue, but in reality it's just another way to control us as drivers, and the country has to pay for it," truck driver and West Virginia resident Brian Lawson, who has been driving for six years, told Business Insider. "Truck drivers used to be free, and now we are chained up."

Drivers are also less able to find a place to park their trucks at truck stops, as sleep schedules have been forced into a 10-hour break time.

"If the mandate exacerbates the truck parking constraints, which it is, … then any safety gains from better rest could be lost to other behaviors," Lynch told Business Insider.

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(Business Insider/Andy Kiersz, truck driver Steven Wright)

Some of the most experienced drivers are quitting to seek fortunes elsewhere

Albert Ratcliffe was a truck driver for more than 40 years. But he recently retired, in part because of the ELD mandate.

Dozens of drivers told Business Insider they're becoming fed up with the trucking industry. "Many veteran drivers quit when the mandate happened," Lawson said.

The main appeal of truck driving is the freedom, they say, and that's been curtailed with this latest law.

"Nobody in the industry is in favor of this, as the flexibility of being a driver with these devices has gone way down," Reno resident Sam Chahal, 31, told Business Insider.

But most frustratingly for these career drivers, trucking has become less and less lucrative. As drivers now travel fewer miles a day, they're paid less.

A rookie trucker earns a median of 28 cents per mile, while experienced drivers like Wright can earn up to 45 cents a mile. A few years ago, Wright could expect to drive around 3,300 miles a week. Now, due to recent regulations and a failure of efficiency for shippers and receivers to adapt, he says he's down to 2,700 miles a week.

That ultimately works out to $270 less a week, or $14,040 less for the entire year.

The money used to be worth it for Wright, who said his hectic work schedule caused his 27-year-old daughter to become estranged from him.

"I wasn't there for my daughter when she was growing up because I was trying to make money," Wright said. "That's just the price you pay."

Now he works fewer hours, but he'll still be away from his wife and son for weeks, and paid less for it.

"Drivers don't think about how many hours they work," Wright said. "They think about how long they were away from home."

For Wright, the payoff isn't there anymore.

Are you a truck driver with a story about the industry? Email the author at rpremack@businessinsider.com.

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