How Will ELD Requirements Affect the Use of Autonomous Trucks?

There is a rising debate revolving around the question: how will ELD requirements affect the use of autonomous trucks? We need to find out.  

The rise of driverless technology is rapidly transforming the future of long-haul heavy-duty trucking, creating uncertainty regarding the impact of electronic logging devices (ELDs) and hours-of-service regulations. 

The application of regulations to autonomous trucks remains uncertain due to the complexity of the situation. Wiley Deck, the Vice President of Government Affairs and Public Policy at Plus, an autonomous software developer, and a former acting administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, believes that ELDs will continue to be important whenever a human is involved. 

As the vehicle operates, the ELD knows when the system is turned on, whether it is logged in with a human driver, and whether the vehicle is moving. However, the question arises as to whether this matters when there is no driver. 

Another important question is, how will ELD requirements possibly impact the usage of self-driving trucks? In this blog post, we shall discuss how the ELD requirements shall affect the use of autonomous trucks. 

What Impact Will ELD Requirements Have on the Usage of Autonomous Trucks?

Gerardo Interiano, the Vice President of Government Relations and Public Affairs at Aurora Innovation, stated that they are incorporating cutting-edge monitoring tools in their autonomous trucks to monitor the functionality of sensors, brakes, and other systems of each vehicle. 

This will be crucial as they strive to deploy self-driving trucks that operate almost continuously, providing customers with greater freight capacity and halting only for loading, fueling, and maintenance.

The Department of Transportation's AV 3.0 guidance in 2019 suggests that federal regulations regarding autonomous vehicles will not assume that a human is always present onboard during operation. 

As a result, rules specific to human drivers, such as drug testing, hours of service, commercial driver's licenses, or physical qualification requirements, may not apply. 

Developers of autonomous software are advocating for this guidance to become federal law, as they have invested billions in research and development to prepare for the use of robot-driven trucks.

The Immediate Impact of Autonomous Trucks

Despite the looming threat of self-driving trucks, drivers need not worry about their jobs in the near future. As online shopping becomes a regular part of people's lives, the demand for shipping continues to increase. 

Currently, there is a shortage of truck drivers across the US, with around 51,000 job vacancies, according to the American Trucking Association. Trucks transport about 70% of all goods shipped in the US, totaling approximately 10.7 billion tons this year, generating $719 billion in industry revenue. The logistics industry is expected to grow by 3.4% annually until 2023 due to a growing economy.

With self-driving trucks still in development, the high demand for shipping and low availability of drivers has become the perfect scenario for logistics companies. The introduction of electronic logging devices (ELDs) at the end of 2017 caused shipping costs to skyrocket. 

However, as shippers and logistics companies have adapted to ELDs, the rates have stabilized, albeit at higher levels, which is advantageous for logistics companies.

While companies like Google, Uber, and Tesla work to perfect their driverless trucking technology, logistics companies are enjoying the benefits. However, as driverless technology continues to advance, this could be the end of the line for America's truck drivers. 

In the short term, the outlook for truck drivers is good, but there is little hope for the long term.

The Long-Term Impact of Self-Driving Trucks

Companies investing in self-driving technology have time on their side. It is widely believed that driverless trucks will eventually revolutionize the shipping market, benefitting shippers while eliminating most of the 3.5 million truck driver jobs in America. 

However, the technology will not develop overnight, so the number of truck driver jobs will slowly diminish over time. Initially, self-driving trucks will require a driver in the cab to take over in case of a technology failure. 

Some start-ups envision a fleet of driverless trucks led by a few trucks with human drivers. These human drivers could be catching up on rest or completing other tasks while the trucks are in operation.

Highway driving is relatively easy to automate, but self-driving technology faces some challenges in metropolitan areas with heavier traffic and tighter streets. 

Startups like Starsky Robotics have come up with solutions that involve remote drivers controlling the trucks from a central location, rather than being physically present in the cab. 

While some companies developing self-driving technology may require drivers in some capacity, the number of drivers needed would decrease drastically. Goldman Sachs has predicted that the driving industry could lose upwards of 300,000 jobs per year as driving automation grows. 

As companies like Uber, Tesla, and Google get closer to their goal of self-driving trucks, the trucking industry will inevitably face significant changes.

Challenges of Tracking Driver Hours for Autonomous Trucks

The upcoming driverless trucks will likely adopt a hub-to-hub system where human drivers will transport a load to the originating hub and other human drivers will take over at the destination hub. However, this presents challenges in tracking drivers and their hours of service, especially when they switch to a different truck. 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has granted exemptions to the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) rule for cases such as the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which could not make ELDs work for drivers operating multiple trucks in a single day. 

The solution was daily independent auditing of paper logs, which went above and beyond what an ELD could do. However, the ELD is specific to the particular truck and cannot be moved to follow the driver. 

Therefore, a similar scenario may arise for short-haul drivers moving loads from an autonomous hub to a distribution center multiple times, which could increase goods in either location and require independent auditing of paper logs.

Final Thoughts

ELD requirements are regulations that mandate commercial drivers to use an electronic device to record their driving hours, replacing traditional paper logs. While autonomous trucks don't require ELDs, the transition to fully autonomous trucks is expected to be gradual, with human drivers involved in some capacity initially. 

As such, ELD requirements may still apply during the early stages of autonomous truck adoption, and tracking the hours of human drivers in a multi-truck hub-to-hub model could pose a challenge. 

However, exemptions and alternative solutions may be explored, such as independent auditing of paper logs, to ensure compliance with regulations while transitioning to autonomous trucking.

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Sara Naveed is a creative and digital content writer who uses her creative skills to develop and edit professional web content. Being a writer has always been her dream. She earnestly hopes people appreciate her writing—an asset she deeply covets. Using her 8+ years of working experience, she writes for trucking industry experts who are always looking for better technological solutions to their problems.

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