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Gadgets & Gizmos

In 1977, a forgettable film titled Gizmo! was released. The movie unearthed reel footage from the previous thirty years of outlandish inventions which never came to be. Humorous in hindsight, but technology today which impacts the future is bittersweet. Forty years has passed since this quirky movie was released, but 2017 is a battleground featuring two significant pieces of real technology. Electronic Logging Devices and Speed Limiters are their names, however their fates are still in question.

The debate surrounding Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) and Speed Limiters (SLs) is far from over. In fact, with the impending change of political administrations in Washington DC, these mandates may become nothing but mere suggestions or best practices.

Where do these regulations come from? The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is a division of the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) who answers to the Secretary of Transportation, who is appointed by the President of the United States.

To think the political will of the seated POTUS will not decide the outcome of gadgets and gizmos is foolishness. One administrative stroke of the pen is all it takes to bury the regulation.

As it stands today, the ELD mandate will go into effect in December 2017, barring a judicial order to cease (there are several lawsuits pending against FMCSA) or a POTUS executive order. The FMCSA is expected to release its final rule regarding speed limiters early in 2017, as the comment period ended in December 2016.

The pros and cons of ELDs and SLs have been argued ad nausea by both sides who oppose or favor ELDs and SLs. The American Trucking Association (ATA) has long clamored for government mandates to require these devices. Why? Because their membership consists of the largest trucking fleets in America.

The Owner Operator Independent Driver’s Association (OOIDA) has adamantly opposed these same regulations as their 158,000 members represent the one-man shops who haul freight as sole proprietors. Make no mistake, both of these organizations represent trucking, but there is little common ground (and no love lost) as to how the industry should be regulated.

What’s good for the big guys hurts the little guys. Big carriers with deep pockets can afford these devices. They will receive bulk discounts for purchase and installation of the gadgets. When a carrier has 5,000 trucks traveling hundreds of millions of miles each year, limiting speed will save fuel. Even a ½ mile savings per gallon, per mile, per truck, will quickly make up the initial cost outlay.

When a carrier has thousands of drivers keeping daily hours-of-service logs, there is no doubt ELDs streamline the paperwork. More trucks equal more opportunities for inspections and fines. ELDs help mitigate the damages.

Local government has long clamored against unfunded mandates from “higher” levels of government. Unfunded mandates designed to solve the problems of a small batch of communities create a taxpayer burden on communities not suffering from the same issues.

In comparison, ELDs and SLs are unfunded mandates for the owner-operators. Could the gizmos make their operations safer? Maybe, but is it a level economic playing field? No.

The trucker with one truck making $60,000 year can’t afford a $4,000 ELD purchase and installation. How long will it take him to recoup a 6% investment to his bottom line?

The profit margins are tight enough as it is and these mandates will force many experienced, safe drivers out of the business. That’s not good for America or the American dream.

Don’t forget who is truly driving the changes: lobbyists. The gadget and gizmo industry has spent big dollars leveraging “safety” under the guise of their products. The technology is impressive, and the option to use these tools should be allowed.

The role of government should be limited to setting up boundaries. Drivers have posted minimum and maximum speed limits. Drivers can only operate this many hours. Allow elected leadership to debate these parameters as to what is best for the country.

The government should not be in the business of regulating how compliance with their regulations is achieved. This abrogates a pure, free-market economy.

The taxpayers have already paid for the how anyways. The police, and all their gadgets and gizmos, are the proven method to generate compliance. Love or hate law enforcement, the average motorist will be glad to see them when two trucks, side-by-side for 10 miles on a two-lane interstate, are proving whose speed limiter is calibrated correctly.

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