Business

Trucking regulation could drive up produce cost

Advocates say new devices keep highways safer

Chicago Tribune/TNS

Monte Wiederhold, a truck driver from Ohio, talks about his preference for paper logging over the new digital device, at a truck stop in Illinois.
Chicago Tribune/TNS Monte Wiederhold, a truck driver from Ohio, talks about his preference for paper logging over the new digital device, at a truck stop in Illinois.
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CHICAGO — Shoppers could see grocery prices rise because of a new federal mandate requiring most long-distance truckers to use electronic logging devices to keep track of their time spent driving.

Some truckers are experiencing difficulties and delays as they switch from paper logbooks to the devices, which plug into a truck’s engine. Proponents argue the devices, which have been required for most truckers since Dec. 18, keep drivers more honest about their driving time and therefore make the highways safer.

But those delays mean truckers aren’t covering as much distance or making the same number of runs as before, driving up the cost of produce coming from California, Arizona and Florida, according to longtime Chicago produce wholesalers such as Anthony Marano Co. and Testa Produce.

And those price hikes eventually will be passed on to consumers, they say.

“You’ve created this whole logistical nightmare and for what? Why?” asked Peter Testa, president of Testa Produce.

Before the electronic logging devices, truckers recorded their hours manually in a paper logbook. Although they were still bound by federal limits on the number of hours they could drive, the paper logs gave truckers more flexibility in how they recorded hours.

For example, a driver stuck in a traffic jam or otherwise delayed might not have recorded that as driving time. Or a trucker close to the 11-hour driving limit allowed under federal law might have gone a little farther to find a safe place to park. Though such practices weren’t technically legal, the paper logs allowed drivers to use their own judgment to balance the interests of safety and business.

But the electronic devices hold drivers to a more rigid compliance with hours-of-service regulations, which federal regulators and law enforcement officials say is needed to prevent fatigued driving. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimates the devices will eliminate 1,844 crashes, prevent 562 injuries and save 26 lives annually.

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Time will tell if those numbers prove true, but the mandate’s already affecting local businesses.

Both Testa and Jason Nitti, transportation manager of Anthony Marano, said they’ve had to pay significantly more for produce, though factors such as a holiday surge in demand and high diesel prices also likely contributed.

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