NY State court upholds trucker e-tracking regs

Intrastate New York truckers will have to use the same electronic logging devices (ELDs) as their interstate counterparts, thanks to a court decision finding no basis for a driver support organization’s regulatory challenge. The State of New York Court of Appeals ruled that the time-tracking devices used to ensure drivers follow work-hour limitations, do not result in unreasonable violation of privacy, or constitute unreasonable search and seizure.

In reaching its decision the court cited the nation’s long history regulating the trucking sector. ELDs have been required for interstate traffic since 2017 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), for any driver who runs more than 150 air miles or works for than 14 hours a day.

Nearly 40 states followed the federal rule with requirements of their own, with an eye on improving highway safety. “The states wanted to fill the gap in the application of the law,” said Randy Mullett, a consultant in the areas of trucking and freight sustainability, security, and safety. “They saw it as a tool for improving highway safety and wanted to apply it to everybody.”

Mullett also assumed a secondary motive by state rule makers: the need to keep better track of independent contractors’ wages and hours. Making the new rules even more attractive was the relative ease of enforcement since little additional manpower was required. “Every state already has an enforcement group of people checking logs on interstate traffic and enforcing that for the Feds,” said Mullett. “So why not do it for the state at the same time? After all, when you're stopping a truck, you don't know whether it's interstate or intrastate until you see what it's hauling.”

Randy Mullettis a consultant in the areas of trucking and freight sustainability, security, and safety

ELDs Tool in Accident Prevention

The New York State Department of Transportation (NYDT) viewed ELDs as effective tools for preventing accidents because they monitor how long drivers go without rest on the road. In requiring their use, the FMCSA’s goal was to prevent accidents by monitoring how long drivers work without rest. Previously used manual systems were reportedly subject to forgery. Some 755 fatalities and 20,000 injuries occur every year due to fatigued truck drivers, according to the FMCSA.

“For over 80 years, New York has enforced hours-of-service limitations and record keeping requirements for commercial vehicle drivers,” stated Judge Shirley Troutman in her opinion. “The aim of New York’s 1937 hours-of-service statute was essentially the same as the aim of our current federal and state regulations: protecting operators of motor trucks and buses as well as the public generally from the dangers incident to fatigue of drivers. Those hours-of-service requirements were the outgrowth of long and tragic experience with accidents on the highways of this and of other states, since the fatalities resulting from overwork of motor truck drivers is common knowledge and needs no elaboration.”

Opponents Raise Questions

A truckers’ support organization, the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), had filed suit against the New York regulation. Some of the rule’s opponents noted that strict enforcement of hourly driving limits could actually diminish safety by discouraging drivers from spending some extra time driving to a safe spot to pull over.

Given the similarity of the state laws with the federal, and the ease of extending enforcement, Mullett was a little surprised that the OOIDA tried to challenge the regulations. He acknowledged, though, “a little bit of a camel's-nose-under-the-tent type philosophy. The drivers don’t want any more people sticking their nose in their business than they have to.”

So, what about the states that do not yet have ELD requirements? Are they going to follow the path of New York? Mullett feels the trend might have run its course. “I don’t anticipate a bunch of other states jumping on board. The ones that were going to do it have probably already done so.” Also, many of the states that don’t have the requirement may be smaller in size, so their truckers hauling intrastate freight would likely fall under the 150-air-mile exemption.

Labor Dispute Influences Views

Another factor contributing to the issue is the labor environment, noted Mullett. “How do people feel about wage and hours law in the state? Are they pro-labor or right-to-work? The two big challenges to the law from the OOIDA were in California and New York, both of which are very pro labor. And both of them are big in terms of the distance people could drive inside of them.”

Have the regulations been effective? “I think that the jury is out,” said Mullett. “Truck fatalities and injuries are actually up nationally since these new laws were put into effect, so there is some skepticism about their effectiveness. It seems there has not been big benefits to the states, either in safety or in revenue from enforcement.”

While electronic tracking of hours of service helps enforce regulatory requirements, it doesn’t automatically increase highway safety unless there is a lot of fraud being committed, noted Mullett. “The goal is not really to enforce a rule, but to make the highway safer and make a better life for truck drivers. I hope that’s the lens through which people look when they’re analyzing whether the rules are good for their state or their business.”

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