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Court Upholds FMCSA’s ELD Rule

By:  R. Eddie Wayland, TCA General Counsel

In 2012, Congress ordered the Department of Transportation to enact regulations which would require most interstate commercial motor vehicles to install electronic logging devices (“ELDs”). In 2015, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (which is part of the DOT) issued its final rule requiring ELDs. Two individual drivers and a trade association for drivers (collectively “drivers”) filed a lawsuit to vacate the FMCSA’s final rule. In the decision that is the subject of this article, the federal appeals court for the Seventh Circuit ruled that the FMCSA’s final rule was legal.

Background

Commercial drivers must maintain paper logs called “Record of Duty Status.” Drivers use these logs to document four possible statuses: driving; on duty, not driving; in the sleeper berth; and off duty. According to Congress, the use of paper logs is problematic because the logs are easy to falsify and are vulnerable to human error. These concerns led Congress to direct the DOT to revise the hours of service regulations for commercial motor vehicles in 1995. Since that time, proposed new rules have been struck down by courts three times.

In 2012, Congress passed the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Enhancement Act. In it, Congress provided direct instructions for the Secretary of Transportation (“Secretary”) to issue regulations requiring most commercial vehicles to “be equipped with an electronic logging device to improve compliance by an operator of a vehicle with hours of service regulations.” The Act provided several factors for the Secretary to consider when issuing these regulations, including the confidentiality of driver data.

The FMCSA issued its final rule in December 2015. The rule requires ELDs for all vehicles that are currently required to maintain hours of service records, provides technical specifications for ELDs, clarifies the extent to which supporting paperwork is required, and adopts provisions which aim to ensure that ELDs are not used to harass drivers.

The drivers filing the lawsuit made several arguments against the legality of the final rule. This article will focus on two of those arguments: (1) that the FMCSA failed to sufficiently protect the confidentiality of driver data, and (2) that the FMCSA’s warrantless administrative inspections of ELDs would violate the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. The court ultimately rejected all the drivers’ arguments, including these two.

Decision of the Court

First, the court found that the FMCSA “provided a sufficient response” to Congress’s direction to safeguard the confidentiality of the data collected by ELDs. In support of this conclusion, the court noted the following: (1) the FMCSA will not maintain ELD data (instead drivers and motor carriers are responsible for maintaining and storing the information), (2) existing regulations already govern the release of private information, and (3) the FMCSA has promised to redact personal information prior to releasing any confidential ELD-related data.

Second, regarding the drivers’ Fourth Amendment challenge, the court found that the administrative inspections at issue fell into an established exception to the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. This exception applies to administrative inspection of “pervasively regulated industries,” and provides that reasonable expectations of privacy are diminished in pervasively regulated industries because “an individual who ‘embarks upon such a business . . . has voluntarily chosen to subject himself to a full arsenal of governmental regulation.’” To be eligible for the exception, the inspections still must meet a three-part reasonableness test.

Here, the court found both that the commercial trucking industry is a pervasively regulated industry, and that the inspections passed the reasonableness test. The court found the inspections were reasonable because the regulatory scheme was informed by a substantial government interest (here public safety concerns), the warrantless inspections were necessary to further the regulatory scheme (automatic recording of data via ELDs and warrantless inspections offer a reasonable method to combat falsification of and errors in the traditional paper records), and because the FMCSA provides a constitutionally adequate substitute for a warrant (scope of inspections is limited to ELD records, data recorded by ELDs is limited, and ELD information can only be used to enforce hours of service rules). Accordingly, the court rejected the drivers’ Fourth Amendment challenge.

Takeaway

Based on the outcome of this case, it appears that the new ELD rule is here to stay. Per the FMCSA, Carriers and drivers who are using paper logs or logging software must transition to ELDs no later than December 18, 2017. Drivers and carriers should familiarize themselves with the rule and be prepared to be in compliance with it by the end of this year.

R. Eddie Wayland is a partner with the law firm of King & Ballow. You may reach Mr. Wayland at (615) 726-5430 or at rew@kingballow.com. The foregoing materials, discussion and comments have been abridged from laws, court decisions, and administrative rulings and should not be construed as legal advice on specific situations or subjects.

February 14, 2017

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