Steve Rush admits it: “I was a cheater.” He cheated on his logs as a driver and, after founding New Jersey-based Carbon Express, he allowed it in his company.
Rush told his story as part of an educational session on how carriers have transitioned to electronic logs, presented this week at the 2016 American Trucking Associations (ATA) Management Conference and Exhibition.
But then around 2008, as Rush explained, his safety director was next in line to be chairman of an industry safety committee—but said he couldn’t take the position because “it would be a lie.”
And that prompted a reevaluation, both of Rush's own time as a driver and his responsibilities as a fleet owner.
“I gave him my word: From this day forward, we would run legal,” Rush recalled.
He made it clear to the company’s drivers that hours of service compliance was to be taken seriously, but about six months in Rush wasn’t satisfied. Frustrated that the drivers weren’t fully committed, he asked the safety director about e-logs.
The safety director immediately advised him that the company should expect to lose at least half of its drivers—if not all of them.
“And he was probably right,” Rush said. “So we went for almost two years before we finally put them in.”
Then Carbon Express began installing e-logs in 2010, and ran them “side by side” with paper logs for about six months.
“It was the single best thing I’ve ever done for the company, and for myself,” he said. “Do not fear electronic logs. They are good for your people. They are good for you. They are good for the industry and they are good for highway safety.”
Only one driver left—and he came back, Rush added.
The visibility into how the fleet truly operated provided immediate benefits.
“We weren’t charging enough for what we were doing, because we had been cheating,” he said. “And we weren’t paying our drivers enough money, because they, too, were cheating. So that all changed.”
On the customer side, Rush recounted a delivery in which the driver ran out of hours just 50 miles from the receiver. The customer called Rush and told him to send the driver in, and Rush said he couldn’t do it—even if that meant losing his largest account. Simply, he asked if that delivery would be worth someone's dying in a crash.
“I still that have that customer today,” Rush said. “Your customers want you to do this. We also found out that customers who recognize you do this become very loyal. When the mandate hits, and people start to struggle to move freight, you’ll see it.”
More broadly, the use of e-logs has shown how disruptive changing a driver’s schedule can be. Carbon Express runs irregular routes, coast to coast, with the drivers generally starting in the early morning, Monday through Friday. But it became clear that the occasional late-night or weekend load, for which a driver would have to be held back, proved burdensome—and, clearly, the company wasn’t charging enough for those loads. More importantly, driver sleep patterns are disrupted.
“It’s really opened our eyes,” Rush said. “The old guys, they’d start any time, day or night. We now say ‘no’ to freight like that.”
Indeed, the key to a successful transition to e-logs—for both customers and drivers—depends on being able to do a better job of planning deliveries. And a simple but effective change for Carbon Express was to program the system give the driver an earlier alert that his hours were running out.
“An electronic log is not the end-all, do-all, but it’s the first thing we’ve ever had that polices rogue drivers and rogue owners,” Rush said.
“It works all the way around. Drivers are happier and drivers are safer. We run 5 million miles a year, and we’ve had one FMCSA reportable accident in the last four years, and I really attribute it to those electronic logs and speed limiters.”