What’s a trucker to do? Perhaps the better question might be, what will the producers do? Electronic Log Devices (ELD) have been in the works for several years with an implementation deadline of December 18th of this year. What that means is any trucker who qualifies must have an ELD installed and operational by the December date. Despite best efforts by many organizations at both the national and local level, and even though there are some exceptions being sought, implementation is still set for December 18th. As evidenced by the rule and based on our discussions with federal policymakers, no credence was given to the difference between short and long haul trucking
When ELD’s were first discussed it seemed the intention was to stop the problem of long haul drivers from going several hundred miles driving without a break, whereby creating unsafe situations. The unsafe conditions come as a driver sits behind the wheel for extended periods of time. This is when road stare and fatigue have an opportunity to overcome the drivers’ alertness and slows their ability to react in a given situation. The operating conditions are much different for short haul drivers such as those hauling logs, gravel, blacktop, construction equipment, produce and other locally grown or harvested products.
Long haul is typically not impacted by the weather because loads are in more of a controlled setting on blacktop roads or warehouses. Hauling can usually be done 24/7. Not so with logging or other commodities such as gravel or harvesting of crops. For many reasons dry or somewhat dry conditions are required to get into the forest or on to the fields. Other than market conditions, weather has the most unmanageable and biggest impact on deliveries of raw material.
For log haulers the time spent driving per load is typically two hours or less and is a short distance which includes a logging road and several miles of secondary road as part of the trip. Most of the driver’s time is spent outside the truck loading or unloading, or waiting for a third party to do one or both of the aforementioned activities. The monotony of doing one thing for an extended period of time does not exist in log hauling. The hauls are short and the conditions are usually challenging.
As mentioned, weather is a condition that cannot be controlled which is where the real challenge lies. Typically logging roads are built on the material present at the harvest site. Much of the northern forests are grown on heavy soil that does not drain well after a rain. This in turn restricts the movement of log trucks until such time the road dries enough for the log truck to move without the assistance of other equipment. When trucks do need assistance from other equipment it takes away from the productivity of that machine driving costs upwards. Even though hauling cannot be done, today’s high flotation equipment makes it possible for harvesting to continue without ecological impact to the forest. When a truck can’t haul and wood continues to be produced, the truck gets further behind. The dilemma is how will the product get moved in a timely fashion?
When a log truck driver sits idle because of wet hauling conditions, there’s no way to bank hours for the dry times when hauling can be done. To the best of my knowledge under the ELD system, no adjustments can be made in hours of operation to accommodate for these types of situations. Even if exceptions for these conditions were granted, how will an ELD be programmed to keep a driver from receiving enforcement action for hours of service violations? Exceptions in hours of operation have been made on regular basis under the current system. Those exceptions include weather, natural disasters and other unexpected events.
There are options for industry to deal with the weather but they are very expensive and place the forest industry in an even more uncompetitive situation. Options could include the installation of thousands of dollars’ worth of gravel making logging roads passible during heavy rains. Pre-hauling wood during dry times to be accessible during rainy times is another expensive option. Paying to have log trucks on standby for dry times is yet another option. Whether a log truck is in service or not does not change the fact license and insurance requirement must still be met. Not to mention the fact log truck drivers are not readily available and some form of compensation would need to be installed to keep them on call. Since log trucks are purpose built it’s difficult to find other work for them during a change in weather.
Ultimately ELD’s are an additional cost for truckers and I’ve yet to see a conclusive study proving pro or con their impact on public safety regarding short haul log truckers. Moving forest products from the harvest site to mill will undoubtedly be more expensive with this additional mandatory cost. That being said a person has to wonder where the cost will be absorbed. The camel’s back has been sagging for quite some time; let’s hope this doesn’t break it.