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‘A great day’: Electronic logging devices becoming mandatory in semi trucks in Canada to combat driver fatigue

A new era in highway safety regulation begins in Canada on Saturday as electronic logging devices that track a driver’s hours behind the wheel become mandatory in semi trucks travelling between provinces.

The electronic logging devices (ELDs) replace the use of paper log books and effective June 12 are a requirement under a federal regulation aimed at preventing fatigue in commercial drivers.

The regulation covers commercial trucks and buses that cross provincial and territorial boundaries. Industry advocates welcome the change. 

“It’s going to force [non-compliant trucking companies] to get into the game and be compliant and be safe or face the consequences,” Canadian Trucking Alliance president Stephen Laskowski said.

The requirement for certified ELDs will target what he estimates is about 15 to 25 per cent of the trucking industry that routinely cuts corners on regulatory issues — in “an underbelly of our industry, a small but growing underbelly,” said Laskowski.

Under federal hours of service rules, drivers are not allowed to drive more than 13 hours in a day, and they must have at least 10 hours off-duty time each day, of which at least eight hours must be consecutive.

When the ELD regulation was being developed, Transport Canada noted provincial and territorial governments recorded an annual average of 9,400 hours of service violations by drivers between 2010 and 2015.  

About one quarter of those were for exceeding the maximum hours for drivers. Another 11 per cent were convictions for operating two daily logs at the same time, or for falsifying the information in a daily log. 

Nearly half of the hours of service convictions — about 48 per cent — were for failing to maintain, or failing to produce, a daily log.

“For the industry itself, it’s going to be a great day,” Laskowski said of the new regulation.

“It’s going to make Canadian roads safer and it’s going to make it a better industry to work in.”

He says about 70 per cent of the trucks in Canada already have ELDs, in part because the United States in 2017 began phasing in their use.

The difference between the Canadian and U.S. systems, he says, is that ELDs used in Canada will have to be subject to a third-party certification process designed to make them less susceptible to tampering or data-hacking.

Veteran driver not convinced ELDs will propel safety

“They’re a blessing and a curse,” said veteran truck driver Jesse Scobie, at a truck stop in Headingley, just west of Winnipeg, before a trip to California. 

“You don’t have to write a paper log — that’s one good point. But they keep you under the gun with the electronic log,” said Scobie, a truck driver for 25 years.

He says the ELDs are “just another distraction,” and he’s not convinced the devices will actually improve highway safety.

“There are times that it gets you preoccupied with it,” he said. “It gives you a little red light, some annoying voice warnings.”

He says he’s been using an ELD for years, since the devices became mandatory in the U.S.

jesse scobie s eld
The Canadian Trucking Alliance estimates about 70 percent of trucks in Canada already have ELDs. The new regulation requires the devices to undergo third-party certification to make them less susceptible to tampering. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Even though ELDs become mandatory in Canada on Saturday, Transport Canada says operators won’t be penalized for any trucks that don’t have an approved device until June 2022. 

Instead, enforcement measures will start with education and raising awareness, Transport Canada spokesperson Cybelle Morin said in an email to CBC.

“This period, which will be developed with the support of the provinces and territories and in consultation with industry, will give sufficient time for industry to obtain and install certified electronic logging devices without penalty,” she said.

“Transport Canada learned from the U.S. experience in introducing electronic logging devices, including challenges with ensuring the accuracy and reliability of the devices,” said Morin.

“To address these challenges, the department included a requirement for a third-party certification process to ensure that the devices will be tamper-resistant,” she said.

Trucks that don’t cross borders into other provinces are subject to provincial regulations, and Manitoba’s requirement for ELDs doesn’t take effect until December 2021.

Laskowski says the trucking alliance wanted full enforcement of the new requirement to start Saturday as well but added that won’t happen because the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the third-party certification process.

Companies now have a year to get certified logging devices in all their trucks. Transport Canada says a company called FPInnovations of Pointe Claire, Que., is the first one accredited to test ELDs for certification. Once a device has been certified, it will be listed on Transport Canada’s website.

“These devices will have to be certified for anti-tampering, meaning at the end of the next 12 months, every truck on the road will be within the Hours of Service,” Laskowski said. “And that is a big step for public safety and it’s a big step for the compliant industry that play by the rules, which is good for public safety and good for business.”

Potential for ‘malicious activity’ exists: FBI

In 2020, the FBI in the U.S. put out a warning to the transport industry that cyber criminals could “exploit vulnerabilities” in electronic logging devices.

“Researchers demonstrated the potential for malicious activity to remotely compromise the ELDs and send instructions to vehicle components to cause the vehicle to behave in unexpected and unwanted ways,” the FBI cyber division wrote.

The ELDs track things like date, time, location information, engine hours, and vehicle identification data, the FBI noted.

Transport Canada says it is aware of the FBI report and has not received any reports of ELD hacking in Canada.

The issue of log books came up when Winnipeg truck driver Sarbjit Matharu was convicted in a Toronto court April 30 in connection with a horrific crash on Highway 400 that killed four people in 2016. 

The judge’s written decision says Matharu admittedly made a false entry in his log book to make it appear he’d had enough sleep, in case he was stopped and inspected.

A sentencing hearing for Matharu’s conviction on five counts of criminal negligence causing death and bodily harm starts June 21 in Toronto.

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