The email from Ralph Picardo surprised my inbox one recent weeknight around 8. The 54-year-old food-and-plant long-hauler with 30+ years behind the wheel had an axe to grind and time to grind it, as he was parked… and blocked in.
"ELDs are causing a parking nightmare," he wrote. "If anybody thinks they have made the roads safer, they haven't really examined the full extent of it. I've never seen such confusion on the road in all my life."
I asked for more info; his next message showed and told it all.
"I'm parked in a legal spot in North Carolina right now," he said. "Another truck driver just parked right in front of me, blocking me in. She walked up and said she's going to leave at 5 a.m."
"I said, 'Can't you find a better spot than that one?' And her response was that she was out of (HOS) time."
He sent a photo taken from his cab showing the truck that was keeping him and his reefer captive.
Picardo's frustration is what he insists almost every truck driver agrees with, and that is that while electronic logging devices may have been a noble idea in theory, in reality they have proven way more trouble than they're worth—at least to the men and women doing all the driving.
The main complaint? That the ELD rules are forcing truckers to stop when they're often not ready or prepared to, and that the arbitrary run-down of the clock causes problems.
"You see guys that have been around a long time racing and rushing through parking lots like there's no tomorrow, honking the horn at each other," said Picardo, who with a partner runs Ashman Fast Trucking headquartered in Raleigh, NC. "Either that or they're cranking 5 miles an hour so as not to set up their e-log while trying to find a place to park.
"It's one extreme or the other."
Picardo contended that fear of negative consequences is forcing drivers to pull over for their required 10-hour break, regardless of where they are.
"You see guys parked on the side of the interstate with their triangles out when their time is up, even if they're only four miles from a truck stop," he said. "They're so deathly afraid to get a 3-minute violation. Normally they would bring their trucks to a lot; they're working for a big company and don't want to go a minute over. A lot of them are younger drivers who don't know how to manage their time properly."
Up to last year, when paper logs were still in use for primary records and not just backups, Picardo explained he would simply notate if he had to keep his truck moving a bit longer than he was supposed to, and that would be that. With ELDs, he said, there's no wiggle room.
"I don't see how ELDs have made anything safer; it's a parking dilemma, with people beached all over the place," he said. "Guys are afraid to go 10 minutes over when you used to pencil in 'no safe haven' and had to maybe go an extra 15 minutes to get to a truck stop because you were stuck in traffic all day.
"It's not about running 19 hours a day. There's no flexibility there. Guys are afraid to get a violation."
The rushing around, he added, has not only not made things safer, but Picardo feels ELDs are actually making them worse.
"If there's anything I've learned over the years it's that when you rush, that's when you make a mistake—you break something, you hit something or have some kind of mishap," he said. "I just don't think there was enough research done. Whoever came up with the idea had no conception of what it (the use of ELDs) is like on the road."
From what he's seen, Picardo said he does not believe ELDs will have a positive impact on trucker jobs and finances.
"I remember reading that ELDs are going to create more jobs," he said. "Well, trucking is about the only industry in America that always has vacancies. All ELDs have done is make more trucks be on the road from 9 to 5 when it's the most congested time, because drivers don't want to get stuck somewhere at night. During the day it's just ridiculous out here," he argued.
Meanwhile, it hasn't helped that this year's rates are lower than last year's, according to Picardo, causing more competition between independent haulers.
"The economy's a little flat now, so rates are way down," he stated. "When [ELDs were first required], they shot rates up. I'm probably 20% down gross revenue this year from last year."
"I don't run a very popular lane. I run from North Carolina to Boston or New York City hauling potatoes, onions, plants and frozen food. Normally, every year I would go down to the bottom of Florida and work my way up the coast as the season progressed. This year I didn't go down to Florida because the rates are so low."
So what's the answer?
"There's got to be some revision in HOS and how it's implemented," Picardo said. "If I want to go in my bunk and lay down for 6 or 7 hours, it shouldn't [take away from] my time of driving. But if I do that prior to my 10-hour break, it does.
"It's counterproductive," he argued. "ELDs were implemented without proper forethought."