The infamous U.S. electronic device (ELD) mandate, which passed in December 2015 with a implementation deadline of December 2017, was constructed with good intentions. By keeping better tabs on drivers and limiting their driving hours, there would be fewer exhausted drivers and therefore fewer accidents. 

That was the theory, anyway. But as is sometimes the case regarding new laws with good intentions, the ELD mandate carried with it a small army of unforeseen consequences. Those consequences have spiked the cost of shipping to unforeseen levels, brought about much consternation from truck drivers, and perhaps, most importantly, thrust logistics into the spotlight. 

It starts, as it usually does in businesses, with cost. The Cass Truckload Linehaul index, which measures fluctuations in shipping prices independent from fuel costs, has been positive for 13 consecutive months, leading to the highest truckload price in the history of modern trucking. The surging prices are extending to rail prices as well, increasing the overall cost of intermodal transportation.

There are multiple reasons for the price increases. Some of it is simply demand: as Amazon and other retailers push two-day and same-day shipping and balloon their own gross shipping requirements, prices would naturally increase if supply doesn’t keep pace. The other part, of course, is the ELD mandate. By hard capping what was functionally a soft driving cap before, and by removing flexibility on the part of the truckers themselves, the mandate is removing much of the slack in the system that used to exist. 

And while this is certainly a challenge facing the freight industry, it is also an opportunity for logistics to become a truly indispensable part of it. By making the trucker portion of the supply chain inflexible, the logistics surrounding that portion become extremely important. 

There is no easy logistical solution to this issue. It will have to be a multi-pronged approach, one that probably includes artificial intelligence, machine learning, higher tractor-to-truck ratios, and advanced scheduling time.

According to Tommy Barnes, president of technology firm project44, “About 17 to 20 percent of the trucks on the road have available capacity.” There are plenty of places for improved efficiency in the supply chain—it’s just the job of suppliers’ logistics nowadays instead of the truckers and carriers. It represents exciting potential in a rapidly changing industry.

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