Electronic Logging rule survives court challenge
This wasn’t the Halloween treat that many commercial drivers may have been hoping for. Describing the electronic logging device (ELD) rule as “reasonable,” a federal appellate court in Chicago has struck down a legal challenge that was seeking to stop the ELD mandate in its tracks.
The court’s 28-page decision, issued on Halloween, clears the way for the rule to go into full effect. Barring a successful appeal of the decision, about 3.5 million interstate truck and bus drivers will need to begin using ELDs in place of paper logs starting on December 18, 2017.
The legal challenge was brought by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) on behalf of two drivers who may have had reason to expect a different outcome, since the same court sided with OOIDA in 2011 when it vacated an earlier version of the electronic logging rule. This time around, however, a three-judge panel concluded that none of OOIDA’s five arguments held merit.
As it did during oral arguments held on September 13, 2016, the court used its most derisive language to rebut the argument that ELDs need to record a driver’s every move. In a 2012 law authorizing the ELD rule, Congress asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to require ELDs that “accurately and automatically” record drivers’ hours of service. Attorneys for OOIDA argued that the law requires complete automation to prevent drivers from falsifying their duty status.
The court wrote that such an outcome could only be accomplished through “constant video surveillance or perhaps some form of bio-monitoring device,” both of which “would be breathtakingly invasive.”
“We are confident that Congress did not intend to require such invasive devices when it used the word ‘automatically,’” the judges wrote, adding that the FMCSA “balanced the competing directives in a reasonable manner.”
Petitioners also argued that the ELD rule does not adequately protect drivers from harassment, but again the court determined that the FMCSA’s approach was “reasonable.”
A third argument against the ELD rule centered on its cost. OOIDA claimed that the FMCSA’s cost-benefit analysis was flawed, in part because ELDs will not result in improved compliance.
“We also reject this challenge,” the court wrote. “The agency was not required to conduct a cost ‐ benefit analysis for this particular rule [because the rule was required by Congress]. Even if it had been required to do so, its studies were sufficient … to justify the rule.”
Even without considering a reduction in accidents, “the estimated paperwork savings alone outweigh the costs of the ELD mandate,” the court noted.
Another OOIDA argument centered on the confidentiality of ELD data. Congress required the FMCSA to consider confidentiality when writing the ELD rule; OOIDA argued that they failed to do so. The court disagreed, writing that “the agency’s treatment of the confidentiality requirement is sufficient,” citing several privacy laws and FMCSA policies that will help protect drivers.
Finally, OOIDA argued that the ELD mandate is an unconstitutional and unreasonable “search” and “seizure” that violates the Fourth Amendment.
But the “petitioners’ arguments are unpersuasive,” the court concluded, given that trucking is a “pervasively regulated industry” which does not, therefore, enjoy full protection from “reasonable” inspections similar to those done using paper logs.
“ELDs do not create a search regimen substantially different from what has occurred with the paper records for generations of drivers,” the court noted.
The FMCSA has also enacted an important limit on the discretion of inspecting officers, the court found. The agency issued a memo limiting the use of ELD records to enforcement of the hours-of-service requirements and not other laws like speed limits. Here again, the court concluded that the ELD rule is “reasonable” and does not violate the Fourth Amendment.
The federal appeals court is the second-highest court in the land. The plaintiffs could still appeal the decision to a full panel of judges at the same Chicago court, or could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.