This week saw the beginning of the process to approve EWDs, but the question should be asked, are electronic work diaries worth it? Is there a sound reason for bringing them into the already complicated regulatory environment at a time when there a lot of other changes happening in this area?
The answer should be, of course they are worth it, but the question should not be about whether they should or should not be introduced. The question at the heart of all of the debate about this is, what is the end game? Once we work out what the end game is, what’s on the agenda of the different interested parties putting their two pence worth in, then we can have a proper debate about the future of the EWD and everything else which comes along with it.
From the get-go all sides will tell you the main reason for or against the introduction of these particular EWD systems now is safety, and to a certain extent it is. It is the other reasons we are looking for here, the long term aims of interested parties and where they expect the process to end up.
At the extremes, we have two diametrically opposed positions. One is looking for an absolutely secure way of electronically monitoring all of the behaviour of the driver and the truck. The other is wanting to maintain the status quo with the, clearly flawed, work diary regime which we have now. For them the ability to be able to make your own entry and fudge the facts a little give them the flexibility they are looking for in remaining largely compliant, but in a pragmatic way.
The hard line approach is seeking the ideal where the trucking operator must do everything right and feel constrained to be well inside the law at all times, with no exceptions. From this point of view the wider trucking community is treating the current rules with contempt and needs to be fully constrained to ensure reduced fatigue relates fatalities on our roads.
At the other end of the spectrum is the more libertarian idea of responsible drivers being able to manage their own fatigue in an even more flexible and pragmatic set of rules. These people also see the introduction of the EWD as the first step to the introduction of the little black box in the truck which will be used for every level of compliance and to calculate the mass/distance/location charging the government would love to introduce.
Both of these two extremes are untenable. The total control option, with a driver’s civil rights impinged upon by their work diary might work in a police state and in a country with good rest facilities on every highway, but in Australia? On the other hand, open slather is not going to do us any good. The current statistics tell us there is a need to improve on the on-road behaviours in trucking.
Perhaps where we are going in this small step, of introducing a voluntary EWD which simply replicates the function of the flawed work diary, is the right way to go. Nobody is being forced to do anything. If the EWD was more stringent than the work diary the take up would be poor and the exercise futile.
Once the EWD is a reality the level of take up will increase. The big companies will lead the charge as it is a simple process to adapt their current system. Smaller fleets will follow, probably under commercial pressure from customers and the big boys.
When the majority of truckies are on EWDs the idea of making them compulsory will raise its head. This will be followed by long debates from our two extremes until a compromise is reached and we mandate EWDs, in some form. After this, every time the government wants to strengthen the EWD rules another debate will ensue.
As this scenario plays out, no-one will be entirely happy, but we will get to a point where the introduction of the EWD does have a beneficial effect on road safety, our original stated aim. It is at this point we will be able to stop asking ourselves the question, are electronic work diaries worth it?