While some economists and transportation industry experts are warning of supply chain disruptions when a federal rule requiring electronic logging devices on most long-haul trucks takes effect on Dec. 18, state officials hope the safety measure will pose few problems.
"This is a big deal, but it has been looming for almost seven years," said Rick Todd, president and CEO of the South Carolina Trucking Association.
"The vast majority of significant-sized fleets have been, or are in the process, of coming on line," Todd said. "There's a lot of education going on. This should not catch any trucker by surprise."
The U.S. Department of Transportation is requiring the logging devices, called ELDs for short, to track the number of hours a trucker is on the road. The devices will replace paper logs and are touted for their safety and record-keeping benefits.
Federal hours-of-service laws let truckers work 14 hours a day, with a maximum of 11 hours of driving time. The ELDs are meant to ensure that no fudging of time spent on the road occurs.
While some owner-operators and small trucking firms have complained about the cost of installing ELDs and general government overreach, economist K.C. Conway thinks the rule's timing could be the biggest drawback.
"The implementation of electronic driver logs is the black swan event that could really bite us in the butt at the end of the year," said Conway, a former SunTrust analyst who now is director of the Culverhouse College of Commerce at the University of Alabama. "I think we could really face a cluster in terms of e-commerce and retail."
Conway said implementing such a measure one week before Christmas — one of the busiest times for e-commerce — is asking for trouble, especially since Congress won't be in session to defer the rule.
"If you aren't paying attention to those kinds of issues, you could totally screw up retailers and shippers," he said. "It's just insane."
Todd said he isn't concerned about the holiday timing because, even though ELD installations are required by Dec. 18, federal officials won't begin enforcing the rule with out-of-service orders until next April.
"Most freight holiday-related items will already be on the shelves," Todd said. "Fleets that do home delivery are either light-duty and exempt or with companies that are already compliant, like UPS and FedEx."
Other exemptions to the Dec. 18 deadline include truckers who use paper logs no more than eight days in a 30-day period and those who drive vehicles manufactured before 2000. Trucks that already have some type of automatic onboard recording device that monitors a driver's hours of service have until 2019 to install the government-approved ELDs.
Todd compares the new rule to other major changes within the trucking industry, such as deregulation and commercial driver's license legislation.
"All were shocks to the system, but we're better off because of it," he said. "While this is a change — and a government mandate — our leaders are supportive. And most fleets simply want a safe, level playing field. This will go a long way towards that goal."