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Clock is ticking on electronic monitoring for transport trucks

Trucks carrying agricultural shipments into the U.S. will have a tighter leash on hours-of-service rules this year, and Canada isn’t far behind

Old-fashioned transport truck log books are becoming a thing of the past, and agricultural haulers are getting ready for the change.

Both the U.S. and Canada hope to tighten compliance on how long drivers are on the road by switching out paper logs for mandatory electronic logging devices.

“Driver fatigue is recognized in Canada and internationally as a critical risk factor associated with motor vehicle crashes,” Transport Canada said in a draft release of the changes published in the Canada Gazette Dec. 16. “Fatigue in commercial drivers is especially important given that crashes involving large trucks and buses can cause more severe injuries and more frequent fatalities than private passenger vehicle crashes. “Commercial motor vehicle drivers are particularly at risk because of the monotonous nature of their work, extended work days, irregular schedules and poor sleep hygiene.”

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The agency argues that there is incentive to ignore the rules under the current system, since transport companies that push more hours on the road gain competitive advantage over those staying inside the guidelines.

“In addition, as these drivers are able to work more hours, they may be paid more than those who are following the rules, thereby making it easier for non-compliant motor carriers to recruit and retain drivers at a time when the industry is dealing with a driver shortage,” the Dec. 16 economic impact statement read.

Drivers in the United States are already facing down the issue.

As of Dec. 18, the U.S. Department of Transportation now requires most commercial vehicles to have an electronic logging device, although agricultural haulers will get a 90-day grace period before needing to comply.

Angie Hurst of Luckhart Transport says the U.S. requirement will have a “huge” impact on their business.

The company is based in Ontario and hauls regularly out of Manitoba, but regularly ships livestock south of the international border. About half of their 25-truck fleet has been outfitted with electronic logging devices so far.

“We’ve done our checklist of what needs to be done and we’re trying to work out the kinks because, you know, as with anything, these drivers aren’t used to using tablets and the new technology and stuff,” she said. “We’re working so that we are prepared if, after the 90-day extension, we have to make this happen.”

Transport Canada argues that the changes will put Canada back in line with U.S. policy.

Rick Wright of Heartland Order Buying, however, said he is concerned about the incoming shift. The trader pointed to the long-distance hauls typical of the Manitoba cattle market.

Ontario and Quebec have both been major markets for live cattle this year, according to Wright, both requiring long hours on the road. The U.S. has shown less demand, although any southbound shipments will also have to contend with electronic logging as of next spring.

“We don’t have the infrastructure in the cattle business to support those new proposed regulations,” he said. “If they come in as they’ve been presented, especially in Manitoba, it could make it a lot more difficult for us to market our cattle because we are a net exporter of feeder cattle. We have very few feedlots that finish any cattle here to slaughter weight.”

Upgrading enforcement

According to Transport Canada, about a quarter of hours-of-service violations are drivers who have been on the road too long. Another 11 per cent were operating two logs at once or falsifying records, while almost half (48 per cent) are due to incomplete or missing logs.

Drivers can already switch out paper log books for electronic recording devices, but Transport Canada argues those are first-generation technology and, “The information generated from these daily logs can be falsified, incomplete, duplicated or missing altogether in an effort to avoid accountability for non-compliance with the regulations.”

As a result, it says, rules are difficult to enforce.

As well as mandatory electronic logging, the Canadian agency wants more specific requirements for supporting documents like bills of lading and set standards for the logging devices themselves.

The federal government is also making an economic argument for the change. Logging devices will cut down on time off work due to hours-of-service violations, it says, as well as cutting administrative costs and tax dollars spent on inspections and audits.

Those benefits will be worth an estimated $36.4 million a year, the Dec. 16 report read. At the same time, equipment, inspections and additional training are expected to cost $17.9 million annually.

If approved, haulers will have two years to prepare for the shift, time that Transport Canada says is needed to choose, install, test and train staff on the new equipment. There will be another two-year transition period for companies already using electronic recording devices to bring their equipment into compliance.

The regulation draft is now open for a 60-day public comment period.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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