My fellow truckers caused me a headache the other day in advance of my planned return to the road after taking a two-month hiatus. They snarled traffic with a kind of rolling blockade or slow-moving convoy. I was on my way to have dinner with my younger daughter and her partner, and it was a long drive that took me through Sacramento. As it happens these protesting truckers were on that route. Actually I did not get caught up in it directly but I think I felt some of the effects of the aftermath with traffic that was still backed up in the Sacramento area. But the other problem was the usual accidents on the highway — there had been several of them, and this was past the truck convoy route (so not the truckers’ fault). As far as I could see they were likely caused by people driving too fast. The weather was perfect. Really no excuse. There is a tie in here to what I want to say below.
If you are not in long-haul trucking or not somehow connected to it or don’t know anyone in it you may not give a hang. But then you could still be curious as to what is the beef.
Mostly independent owner-operators are protesting the new law and regulation that will force them to install electronic logging devices in their trucks to replace the quite cheatable paper logs. No more fudging on the hours to rack up the miles (or to get where you need to be). Long-haul works at a piece rate (miles x so many cents per).
The e-log mandate’s official purpose is to promote safety by forcing the truckers to abide by hours of service rules, thus avoiding accidents caused by tired drivers.
But here’s the deal from my perspective as someone who has worked at long-haul for two decades and counting: there are two basic reasons to fudge (the law calls it “falsification”, even if it is simple human error in calculation — by the way, and the fines are heavy):
- You simply want to go the extra miles to make more money.
- You want to get to a safe and comfortable and legal place to park — and that is not easy a lot of times.
- Okay, I have to add a third reason: you simply want to go home — like you’re 20 minutes away but you are out of hours.
So, truckers fudge or as the law calls it, “falsify”, their logs for a combination of those reasons.
Now simply to make more money is indefensible. I don’t see that they, or we (since I am a driver), have a right to jeopardize the safety of the motoring public because we want to make more money. On the other hand, since the practice of fudging has been so widespread and ingrained in the business there has been built up an expectation among the drivers and the companies who hire them that they can cover x number of miles in a day, regardless of the law. Both the companies and the drivers have built their economies around the practice.
Within a company drivers get mixed messages: obey the law/get there on time. One official, who will remain nameless, once told me: “there are two types of logs, legal ones and ones that ‘look’ legal. I’ll take looks legal every time.” Now if my current employer is reading this, I note that I did not say which company — I have worked for three.
But this is a new day. My hope is that if everyone is on the same page, that is if everyone is using e-logs, this fact may force some efficiencies into the whole business.
The main problems in it all right now are the shippers and receivers (not all) who do not give a hoot how long they hold a truck for loading and unloading, thus eating up the drivers’ hours, and the fact that maybe there are far too many trucks on the road and not enough parking spots. Also at times (it goes back and forth) there are too many trucks chasing too few loads, allowing shippers and receivers to abuse truckers by holding them too long, thus robbing them of their ability to make miles in a day and forcing them to eat up their hours sitting and waiting. Of course traffic delays are a major problem as well.
But if truckers could no longer fudge on their hours the truckers simply could not sit around so long and the shippers and receivers would have to be more efficient.
And it can be done, even though some would say it can’t.
Costco is a prime example. Back in the older times I hated to go to a Costco distribution center. Too much waiting. But then they came up with a new paperless system. You drive up to a window and they hand you one of those discs like they use in some restaurants to tell you when your table is ready, and then they actually assign you a dock number right then — and no standing in line with your paper work , they just scan it. You go to the dock and usually within a fairly short time you are unloaded but your product still needs to be counted but that does not usually take long and then the disc starts making noise and the lights go off and you are probably in your sleeper and are startled but happy you can get out of there and hit the road to make more money or go home.
If all shippers and receivers handled it that way it would nearly solve the whole problem of staying within safe driving hours.
My hope is that the e-log will force this.
Simply put, when the truckers can no longer fudge or cheat or falsify their logs, they won’t be able to play the shipper and receiver waiting game (at least it would seem that way).
As I understand it, the big trucking companies are all for the e-log for two main reasons:
It may well force many smaller companies and owner-operators out of the business and they can keep better track of their own drivers.
Now I am all for safety out on the road.
So what are we going to do about all these unsafe car drivers? Maybe they need e-logs too.
I think I have written all this to psyche myself out for using e-logs. Up till now I have not. But upon my planned return to work (set for this week as of now), I will be forced to use the e-log system.
At the moment, my concern is more about how I can get the job done than the potential loss of money — however a loss of earning power could put me out of business too. I am not an owner-operator, though. I simply work for a small company as a driver employee. When the truck breaks down (all mechanical things do) or when it needs tires or brakes it does not come out of my pocket. When you break down out on the road you are vulnerable. The repair places know this. The sky is the limit for work. For that matter, the sky is the limit for food out there. That’s why so many truckers pack their own and forgo the restaurants, most of which have shut down. A lot of them do use fast food (not my favorite).
But can I do this e-log thing?
Here is a real-life case in point:
There is a load I often have to do. I usually get it after I have gotten up early in the morning to make a delivery in perhaps the San Francisco Bay area. I might be unloaded by, say, 11 a.m. or even earlier. Now I get this load. I have to drive an hour or more to it. Problem is, I cannot check in for it until maybe 8 p.m. and then the problem is that I usually am not done there till after midnight. By this time I am out of legal hours. Also I have not necessarily been able to sleep all the waiting time due to various reasons, such as having to move the truck and checking on the loading process. And another problem is the shipper, due to lack of room if nothing else, does not allow me to stay there. So I am forced by circumstances to drive at least an hour to a truck stop that may be full with no place to park. Some truckers simply pull over to the side of the road, even though it is not legal, and go to bed. My company tells me that is a no, no. Our late safety director (poor man passed away too young from some malady) called it one of his “unforgivable five”. But, God rest his soul, when I would ask him what I should do in such a circumstance, he simply either shrugged his shoulders or said: plan out your day. How can I plan when I do not know in advance where I will be or how long? Safety directors and dispatchers never have an answer for that except: “do the best you can (which to me is code for break the law but don’t get caught).
But if I decide to return to work (and that is up in their air at this time) I’ll just have to see how it goes.
I do know that even with e-logs there is some fudging going on. Computers can obviously be manipulated. However, I suspect the authorities will be better able to catch that with the electronic systems.
In some ways drivers such as I should be better off with e-logs. No longer should I have to worry that by simple miscalculation of my paper log I could be fined two thousand dollars or more (I mean I would never knowingly cheat…).
Also, I have talked to drivers who claim they actually get more miles because the e-log measures time up to the minute. On a paper log you have to round up in 15-minute increments. Often you rob yourself of time because of that — you spent eight minutes but have to round up to 15 — that all adds up rather quickly.
My problem is efficiency. While I consider myself a hard and responsible worker, stuff happens. You go to slide your trailer tandems to adjust to legal weight and they are stuck. All that time on an e-log would be subtracted from your available hours for drive time. On a paper, log, well that delay just did not happen or goes down as break time.
But this is a new day. I have to get used to it or get out of the game.
As far as the money goes, as far as the recalcitrant shippers and receivers go, if everyone is on the same playing field I would think something has to give.
Back in 2005 the hours of service rules were amended to add a 14-hour window in which you had to get everything done — previous to that the 18 or even 24-hour day was common. And I noticed some move to efficiency then (not enough, though).
Oh, and we need more, much more truck parking.
All forms of freight transportation are important (trucking, rail, air, shipping on water), but our system depends upon trucks — you just could not get the bulk of the goods to where they are needed without trucks, at least in some segment of the trip. So even if you are not into the business you are affected by it.
The hours of service rules for long-haul trucks are basically this: 11 hours per day driving limit to be done within a 14-hour window, with a 30-minute break required after 8 hours of driving, and a 10-hour rest period after 11 hours of driving and a total of 70 hours allowed per week if it is for a seven-day operating company. Sounds like a lot of time. It is, but all the built-in delays, including traffic, subtract from that.
Some of all this does not directly apply to all trucking. I was talking long-haul. But there are other types in which drivers are paid by the hour and in which loads are relayed from one driver to another, thus overcoming the hours of service restrictions. But since the great de-regulation of the trucking industry a few decades ago we have developed this crazy long-haul system — a crazy system that came to my rescue 22 years ago when I was out of work and has sustained me for all that time.
From time to time you will hear talk about going to an hourly rate for long-haul. But that is problematic due to the fact of the unpredictability of it all — almost no set schedules for loading and unloading, making it nearly impossible to calculate pay versus production. But then again, with e-logs, why not? I don’t know. I am not in management.