Yet again, the public is being asked to trade privacy for safety. This time, truckers are in the midst of the controversy, sparked by a proposed rule creating a digital tracking system for commercial truckers that may further stress the nation’s already weak supply chains.
Last month, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) proposed a new rule that seeks to require commercial truckers to have their vehicles equipped with an electronic identification (ID). This new rule, like other attempts to track information on American drivers, is being sold to the public as a safety measure. According to FMCSA’s proposed rule, this change to code would “improve the efficiency and effectiveness” of inspection programs by ensuring regulators focus resources on high-risk carriers and drivers.
Industry response to the proposed rulemaking shows administrators and truckers hold vastly different views on the implementation.
The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators supports the measure on the grounds that a digital tracking system will result in a more efficient allocation of resources. The Truck Safety Coalition, Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, and Parents Against Tired Truckers also support the proposed rule, arguing the current honor system does not protect the public.
However, not everyone is on board with the proposed rule change. Hundreds of individual truckers wrote in opposition, citing privacy concerns. One trucker, Luke Weaver, wrote, “If this information is being transmitted, then everyone and anyone can have access to it. This is a privacy issue.”
Additionally, industry leaders are concerned. The invasive nature of the regulation is central to the concerns of those who oppose the rule. By requiring businesses to implement new technologies, the rule also creates security risks. This will burden businesses with compliance costs unrelated to their core operations, i.e., transporting goods like groceries and other necessities to retailers.
Todd Spencer, president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, expressed concern with the new rule, saying it fails to account for security risks that come with technology-based regulations. Spencer cited a prior rule — the electronic logging device mandate — to argue the government is not doing enough to address problems associated with the implementation of these rules.
“There is little to no recognition of the concerns motor carriers and drivers have continuously expressed about privacy and data security, and there are no indications FMCSA has taken any meaningful steps to alleviate these concerns,” Spencer said. He is not alone. The Specialized Carriers & Rigging Association is also concerned with the proposed rule change. The association cited the invasive nature of the rule to argue that adding another layer of regulation to an already heavily regulated industry is a bad move.
Additionally, Prepass Safety Alliance, a nonprofit public-private partnership that has invested millions in maintaining vehicle identification systems, claims the new rule will not result in safer roads. Instead, Alliance argues the implementation of this rule would be disastrous for supply chains because it would result in truckers leaving the industry and make it more difficult for companies to recruit replacements.
Alliance noted this concern in their comment, stating “[w]ith a shortage of drivers already creating challenges to motor carriers, the supply chain, and American consumers, removing 27% of drivers would be catastrophic.”
Alliance’s claims are not baseless. The percentage of truckers who may leave the industry cited by Alliance came from a June 2022 survey conducted by Randall-Reilly showing that 27 percent of truckers would leave the industry should the government require them to transmit personally identifiable information electronically.
This rule represents another misguided attempt by the government to trade the public’s privacy rights in exchange for the endless quest for “safety.” In reality, this trade-off will likely impact the availability of consumer goods while having no corresponding positive impact on public safety. As always, trading privacy for safety points to a bitter exchange for American consumers.