Bob McArdle has been driving semis for 39 years. He owns his own truck and makes 52 trips a year hauling groceries between Chicago and Bismarck for Karriers Inc. He already faces a lot of challenges making a living on the road but could soon face another one.
Congressional deliberations have begun in conference committee for the federal transportation bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century. One part of the bill would mandate electronic on-board recorders in all long-haul trucks. Drivers would no longer use paper logbooks to track hours-of-service rules. A computer would track them instead.
“I don’t think we need a baby sitter,” McArdle said “I’d say 90 percent of drivers are law-abiding family people. We just want to get home and the government is making it hard for us.”
McArdle doesn’t think on-board recorders will solve problems with drivers going over on hours. He said what is really needed is a better education for shippers and receivers about life on the road.
Truckers are allowed 14 hours on duty at a time. Eleven of those hours are for drive time. The other three are supposed to be for things like loading, unloading, filling with fuel, eating and showering, McArdle said. He said drivers might have to wait one to six hours during pickups and drop-offs while their truck is being loaded or unloaded. He said some drivers only have one destination but he has several stops he has to make along the way. That takes up much of his allotted drive time.
“We don’t get paid for sitting,” he said.
McArdle also said, though he might be kept at a loading dock until 5 p.m. one day, shippers still expect him to be at his destination by noon the next. It is about 730 miles from Chicago to Bismarck. The fine from receivers can range from $50 to $120 for being more than 30 minutes late and it doesn’t matter if an accident has shut down the freeway for several hours.
“Shippers and receivers don’t have to worry about hours of service,” McArdle said. “They’re paid by the number of loads they move.”
McArdle said a driver might be tired or weaving, but if he or she still has two hours left of drive time, they aren’t able to stop and take a break. Otherwise they may not make their destination on time.
“How’s that safety?” McArdle asked.
Thomas Balzer, managing director for the North Dakota Motor Carriers Association, said many big trucking companies already have electronic recorders in their fleets. It is mostly smaller companies and independent operators that are against them.
“The companies that have put them in have been very pleased,” Balzer said. “Some love them and some hate them.”
Jack Kinghorn, who owns his own truck and has been driving for 33 years, said a big problem for independent drivers is cost. He said one electronic recorder can cost between $6,000 to $7,000.
“This is just something to drive people out of the industry,” Kinghorn said.
Kinghorn said he does not think the legislation is going to pass.
“We have 14 million people without jobs. Why do you want to make more?” he said.
Balzer said one benefit of electronic loggers is that they save drivers time on paperwork.
“They are great devices to be able to electronically do something that is usually put on paper,” he said.
Balzer said there is also concern from some drivers about always being watched and tracked.
“It’s spying,” driver James Bauer said. “It has nothing to do with log books. All they (trucking companies) want to know is what we’re doing and when we’re doing it.”
Bauer drives for Sanda Transportation and has been driving for 15 years. He said too many non-drivers are trying to make the rules without having a driver’s perspective.
“We need more people in office who have actually been behind the wheel,” he said. “All this is is occupational discrimination ... When you live by the pound and you’re paying that $4.60 per gallon it can come down to putting food on your family’s table and being on the unemployment line.”
Balzer said the American Trucking Association supports the legislation but the NDMCA doesn’t have a position on it.
North Dakota Highway Patrol officer Joshua Anderson said the new rule wouldn’t change the way the patrol operates because they would be enforcing the same regulations.
“Hopefully it would make it harder to falsify logs,” he said. If an electronic recorder has a GPS it would be possible to check it against a driver’s log to see if the log had been changed.
Anderson said the majority of drivers are honest and don’t falsify their logs.
“It’s an issue, but I don’t know if I’d say it’s any worse than anywhere else. As you get more traffic naturally violations will increase but it’s not that you necessarily have more drivers violating percentage wise.”
Anderson also said the system could be helpful to drivers because it could alert them when they’re getting close to an hours violation instead of them having to guess.