Channel 2 Investigates: Electronic logging devices modernizing trucking industry

Driver's time behind wheel recorded, stored electronically

HOUSTON – A mother speaking of a child in the past tense is always difficult to hear, "We were best friends. She was my daughter but we loved being around each other."

Tari Witcraft of The Woodlands lost her daughter, Jamie, in July 2015. The 22-year-old was stopped in traffic on a highway in Alabama. Witcraft was on the phone with Jamie when suddenly, "She went from talking and telling me about her day to silence."

A semi plowed into Jamie from behind. Witcraft said she heard no scream or crying, simply the breathing of her daughter, "For 52 minutes I stayed on the phone with Jamie, begging her to stay alive."

The driver of the truck hit six vehicles, injured 12 and killed Jamie. According to eyewitness accounts, the driver was distracted prior to the crash.

For Witcraft, the loss will tear at her heart for years, but she feels the solution to eliminating distracted drivers is simple.

"I'm no expert. I'm a mom that has lost her child. There should be desk cams," Witcraft said.

VIEW: Large truck and bus crash facts

As Witcraft calls for an electronic device that records video inside of cab, another device, as of this past December, has become a permanent fixture in trucks: Electronic Logging Devices.

The devices that have replaced the paper logging system of the past. A driver's time behind the wheel is now recorded and stored electronically, thus ensuring they are not working longer than the 11 to 14 hours the law allows in most cases.

"I've been driving for 20 years," said Cornelius Glaspy, a truck-driving veteran. "I have over the road experience, local experience."

He told Channel 2 Investigates the new mandated system simplified his life.

"I can say, everything is pretty much done for you," he said.

The Electronic Logging Device or ELD rule was announced by the Department of Transportation in late 2015. Truckers were provided with a grace period until December 2017.

The rule was as clear as the open roads, every trucker on the road required ELD logs, a few exceptions, such as the amount of driving in a month, transport drivers transporting a vehicle for sale, lease or repair and drivers of vehicles manufactured before 2000.

Joe Jones, a Houston attorney experienced in trucking litigation, represented Witcraft after Jamie's death.

"One of the biggest problems we see is drivers that should never be behind the wheel of an 18-wheeler," Jones said.

VIEW: Motor Carrier Safety Progress Report

Better oversight of the drivers is what Jones stresses. However, when it comes to new ELD measures, Jones is not a proponent or critic, but rather a skeptic. He admits he is concerned over potential manipulation.

"I'm not going to trust it until we have seen and demonstrated that even when it's tried to be manipulated, we can still catch them," Jones said.

"I think that to adopt any change, including technology because technology is just a subset of change, you have to have a culture that embraces it," said Brian Fielkow, owner of Jetco Delivery.

ELDs may be relatively new to the masses, but Fielkow, on the other hand, is quite familiar with them.

"In 2008, we put electronic logging devices, ELDs, in all of our trucks in order to help our drivers operate more safely and in order for us to make sure we're compliant with the law," Fielkow said.

Fielkow simply feels it was time for an industry to modernize its operations and get out of its antiquated past.

"Paper logs, in my mind, are sort of like the horse and buggy," Fielkow said.

Enforcement of ELDs goes into effect April 1.

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