In 2015, 35,092 people were killed in U.S. motor vehicle crashes. Of that number, 48 percent were not wearing seatbelts. If the number of people aged 45 and older is excluded, that percentage rises to above 50%, meaning that more than half of teenagers and those younger than 44 years old were not wearing seatbelts. In 2016, 37,461 people were killed in vehicle crashes on U.S. roads. As the number of fatalities rises, there is no perceptible change in human behavior so one can anticipate that nearly 18,000 unrestrained people are now dying on U.S. roadways.
On December 18, 2017, the trucking industry was required to have Electronic Logging Devices (ELD, or ELD mandate) operating in nearly all commercial motor vehicles to track drivers’ hours of service. The hope was that this regulation would save 26 lives per year. The cost to the trucking industry is anticipated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year. This cost includes lost productivity caused by making it harder for drivers to manage their time which might include hedging a bit on their logbooks; the cost of additional hardware to be installed in the trucks, subscription costs for the services that will be required to be purchased to achieve compensability and a much higher number of fines and penalties levied by law enforcement. The cost does not include the human cost, however. Older drivers who are not computer literate, unwilling or unable to live their lives under the control of an electronic ankle bracelet, the ELD’s equivalent to them, are being forced to leave the industry. Many older drivers retired on or before December 18, 2017, simply to avoid this regulatory burden. Others will follow.
Some will say that those leaving are the unsafe ones and that our highways are safer as a result. Others say that those leaving include many who have spent decades behind the wheel delivering freight safely. It is probably impossible to determine who is more right.
The real question is whether safety was really the reason for the legislation that spawned the ELD mandate. If there really is an interest in saving lives, compare the anticipated cost of the ELD mandate with the potential cost of installing a device in a non-commercial motor vehicle, i.e., a car or pickup truck or SUV, that renders the vehicle inoperable unless seatbelts are properly fastened. What about the cost vs lives saved by requiring the installation of a device that requires a negative alcohol and drug test in order to render a vehicle operational? It seems obvious that more than 26 lives per year would be saved by such legislation, yet there is no such law. Approximately one-third of all motor vehicle deaths are alcohol-related. Some studies show that drunk driving deaths cost our economy $44 Billion every year.
Driving drunk is a problem that has been around since roads have been established. Depressingly, there is no real indication that human nature is changing. While drunk driving laws have gotten stronger, and penalties have become increasingly severe, thousands of people are still dying each year on U.S. roads as a result of alcohol-impaired drivers.
The regulatory burden placed on the professional truckers in the name of reducing highway deaths is inconceivable to most Americans who are not professional drivers. Indeed, as recent experience is illustrating, most truckers did not even perceive the real cost of this regulation. It seems nearly certain that if a comparable regulation were placed on the non-trucking population, the number of lives saved would be in the hundreds or thousands, not 20 or thirty per year. So, why do we not have such regulation?
Thanks to Tony Brock of Brock Law Offices for contributing this guest post.