Brook Ledge Horse Transportation, headquartered in Oley, PA, uses dual drivers to comply with the Electronic Logging Device mandate while getting horses to their destination as quickly as possible. Photo credit: Rick Samuels.
Anyone who regularly commutes on interstate highways in the mid-Atlantic region is familiar with the scenario. Whether it’s a jackknifed tractor trailer, or a multi-vehicle accident involving tractor trailers, it’s clear that the day is not going to go as planned. Traffic will be stalled for hours; often chemical spills will require hazmat crews for cleanup. Inevitably these accidents result in injuries—often catastrophic injuries or death. Besides the human costs, there are economic consequences. Hundreds of people will be late for work or miss important appointments.
While it’s true that the tractor trailers and drivers are not always at fault, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) concluded that there are ways to ensure that drivers of the big rigs operate as safely as possible. To that end, in December 2015 FMCSA published a new mandate as part of an ongoing effort to consolidate and streamline data required from truck drivers. The Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate went into effect in December 2017. ELDs automatically track drivers’ hours of service; they synchronize with trucks’ engines so that additional data are captured, such as hard braking, speed, etc.
FMCSA regulates the hours drivers may spend before mandatory rest breaks. The hours of service rules (HOS) specify how many hours drivers must rest after their shifts. Rules differ for drivers carrying property versus passengers. For instance, drivers carrying property may drive 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty. ELD devices would track the driving/resting data for drivers, replacing paper logs that might be vulnerable to false reporting.
Transporters Seek Waivers
Electronic data collection has been common and relatively uncontroversial in the trucking industry. But the segment of trucking that involves agriculture—horse transportation, live insect (such as bees for pollinating crops) transport and cattle transportation—fought the mandate. The American Horse Council (AHC), lobbying on behalf of the horse transportation industry, requested a one-year delay along with waivers for agriculture operations. On their website, AHC points out that “The welfare, safety, and health of the animals in transit, together with the safety of other drivers on the road, are top priorities for the equine industry and its enthusiasts.” While noting that industry data show that livestock haulers are among the safest truckers, AHC asserts that the rules were developed without input from the livestock industry.
Andrea Gotwals, a spokesperson for Brook Ledge Horse Transportation, says that all their trucks have ELDs. “Not trying to disparage anybody,” she says, “but we have team drivers for any truck that goes long distances.” She sees that as the ultimate protection for horses. “Single drivers who abide by the rules would need to stop before the horses are delivered to their destinations. They’re going to be forced to park and take a 10-hour break. They’re going to be required to sit for 10 hours. And you’re adding time for horses sitting on a truck.”
Brook Ledge, she says, has team drivers, to comply with the HOS rules. “One driver goes into the bunk and the other driver starts driving. We worked really hard to do what we are able to do. Team driving is not easy because you have different personalities,” she says. And the trucking industry is always looking for drivers.
“We are still disappointed in their lack of outreach,” Cliff Williamson says. Williamson is Director of Health and Regulatory Affairs at AHC. He believes the government didn’t do enough to inform the industry about the ELD mandate. “This is more than a horse issue, it’s a livestock issue, and they’ve failed to reach out to the livestock industry at all,” he says. “We are concerned that the livestock industry in general was not consulted. In the years since the discussion (of the ELD mandate) began, the livestock industry has not been kept in the loop. The agriculture industry enjoys a lot of exemptions that are very industry specific. They don’t translate easily into the ELD mandate.”
But Gotwals says that there was plenty of information available in advance. “They’ve been talking about this for minimally four years,” she says. “This isn’t a surprise.” She says that representatives from AT&T and Verizon have been visiting them, offering software platforms to help them conform to the ELD mandate.
Williamson says that the industry doesn’t really have a problem with the ELD mandate, but “we are disappointed in the language being used.” He says they still need some clarifications on the so-called 150-air mile exemption. The 150-air mile exemption is a complicated aggregation of “what ifs” related to agricultural practices. FMCSA recently added livestock to its definition of agricultural commodities, and exempted certain agricultural entities from the HOS rules within a 150-air mile radius from the source of the commodities.
For instance, if a farm operation is moving horses from the farm to a horse show venue that is not more than 150 air miles from the farm—a straight line from farm to venue—the driver is not required to keep a log, and hours spent driving are not limited. If the driver moving horses goes beyond 150 air miles, then he or she is required to limit hours of service (HOS) and use an ELD—for that portion of the trip that falls outside the 150-air mile radius.
“A lot of people think this is forcing new people to be affected by commercial driving regulations,” Williamson says, and that is the primary concern he hears about. “The conversations that I’m having right now concern commercial driver’s licenses, and there’s no new rules except some (drivers) now realize they should have been using commercial licenses.” While there are new rules about the logs drivers are required to provide, and how they are generated, the rules governing who is required to have a commercial license have not changed. He says that generally people who drive horses to and from events don’t need commercial licenses.
Also, drivers may not log more than 60/70 hours in a 7/8 day period without taking 34 consecutive hours off duty. “[Driving] from Seattle to Florida you’re not going to break that eight-day threshold,” he says, “if you do it for money and you’re in a registered vehicle,” a commercial license is required. “To be fair, though, nobody seems to care,” Williamson admits. He says that news of the ELD mandate raised questions among people for whom the mandate is less of an issue than the status of their licenses.