Trucking professionals know that when the federal electronic logging device (ELD) mandate first became law it met with grumbling from some quarters. There were drivers and fleet owners apprehensive about adapting to a new technology. Others — among them many veteran truckers — were reluctant to abandon practices that had become routine after decades on the job. However, one particularly vocal group decried the ruling because it represented what they saw as a new and unwelcome government intrusion, both meddlesome and unnecessary.
Yet the ELD mandate didn’t actually alter the rules. Drivers have been maintaining a record of their hours of service since the 1930s. What the mandate did was only to replace an old method of complying with this statute, with a more efficient, more accurate one.
A shift in attitude?
That efficiency and accuracy are already making a difference in the job satisfaction reported by some who responded early to the new law and made the changeover ahead of the deadline. Although it’s too early for analysts to compile a statistically meaningful body of data on the effects of this conversion, anecdotal information offers positive comments, including from drivers who initially opposed the change.
As an example, one trucking company that adopted telematics for fleet management in advance of the deadline says that today, its drivers — after getting accustomed to the technology — “do not want to deal with paper logs. And we’re finding that drivers are seeking us out because they know we’re on electronic logs here.”
ELDs and a telematics system for navigation and fleet tracking didn’t make their job more unpleasant, these truckers found. Now a new technology is on the horizon that may meet with the same initial resistance.
A shift in focus
The progress of telematics so far has been all about the vehicle. Engine modules register hours, engine temperature and fuel consumption. Miles are counted, and GPS location is tracked. Even the driver information these electronics record for fleet management is primarily concerned with time racked up while the vehicle is in motion.
Since 2013, a research team funded by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has been investigating an entirely different dimension in commercial motor vehicle telematics. They’re turning their attention toward the activity of the driver instead of the truck.
What the researchers call an MDF, for Multi-Modal Driver Distraction and Fatigue Detection/Warning System, will measure driver alertness by monitoring vision, hand gestures, yawning and heart rate. Along with sensors that detect wandering within the driving lane and speed variations, they hope to develop a technology that knows when drivers are sleepy or distracted, and can warn them before an accident happens.
A new round of protest?
If the trucking industry heard a chorus of complaint regarding ELDs and their intrusion on individual privacy, imagine the storm likely to kick up when commercial fleets and owner-operators learn about a brave new world of machines that keep an eye on matters as personal as a driver’s eye and hand movements. That seems to take the concept of invasiveness to a new level.
Yet an understanding of the motivation behind this technology points to a clear contrast between the concerns regarding ELDs, and potential objections to these devices. Drivers who resisted the ELD mandate were apprehensive that electronic logging would be used to “get” them, to identify instances when they were bending the rules (even accidentally) and give the authorities a reason to exact punishment. They saw ELDs as an excessive control placed on their actions, to enforce sanctions when the circumstances didn’t call for that.
If this driver-monitoring system becomes real, its purpose won’t be to catch drivers exceeding their hours of service or displaying aggressive driving behaviors. It is not intended to provide evidence toward the enforcement of regulations; it’s designed to detect when a driver is at risk of injury or death, and help him or her avoid that.
For that reason, driver monitoring is potential new technology that anyone — fleet manager, administrator, investor, driver — should be able to get behind.
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