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NY high court looks inclined to advance trucker safety rule

Privacy and constitutional challenges by a trucking association appear unlikely to put the brakes on a state law meant to keep commercial truckers from falling asleep at the wheel.

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) — Commercial truckers in New York state will need to install electronic tracking devices in their vehicles if the state’s highest court keeps a 2019 law on the books.

In 2019, New York State Department of Transportation adopted a federal rule requiring the installation of electronic logging devices (ELDs) on commercial vehicles to see just how long truckers were on the road without resting. Truckers are required to provide that data to police officers upon request during safety inspections.

Truckers previously had been required to keep logs indicating generally where and when they were on the road for the job, as well as when they used their vehicles for personal errands, but such information was prone to forgery and abuse, critics say.

The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association filed suit against the agency, saying the requirement constituted a warrantless search, violated truckers’ right to privacy, and unfairly tried to enforce hours-of-service rules. The association also claimed the rule failed to provide procedural protections typically required of administrative searches that would limit police officer discretion when a warrant was not available.

A mid-level appeals court upheld dismissal of the suit previously, writing that “commercial trucking is a pervasively regulated industry” and that such searches were warranted.

With the case now before the state's highest court, several of its members asked why truckers should not expect such a regulation to go through.

“With a highly regulated industry, should your clients expect this to happen?” asked Judge Shirley Troutman during the relatively short oral arguments on Wednesday.

Charles Stinson of Cullen Law, who represents the drivers association, said ELDs are far more invasive than log books, since the electronic devices are far more specific in locking down where truckers have been. “The state can’t condition your participation in employment by waiving your constitutional rights,” he argued. “Yes, participation in a pervasively regulated industry does perhaps decrease your expectation of privacy, but it doesn’t wipe it away.”

Judge Anthony Cannataro honed back in, however, on the possibility of fraud, saying electronic tracking kept truckers honest, while Judge Jenny Rivera asked why truckers would not have to give their exact location, even to the carrier that paid the trucker.

“Any privacy information you don’t have to give up to the government is a win,” Stinson said. “The regulations, they always tend to towards digging into truckers’ lives more and more, so any time the truckers can get a win on that side is a win.”

Stinson also tried arguing that ELDs actually made highways less safe since they could incentivize truckers to pull over onto an on-ramp that is not safe or speed to reach their destination in time.

Arguing for the state’s transportation agency, Assistant Solicitor General Kevin Hu noted the government had considered even more invasive technology than GPS tracking, such as body scanners or biometric devices, but determined that electronic tracking was a good balance for privacy concerns.

Hu also stressed that officials were not allowed on a truck to collect the information. The data was transferred through the cloud or via a thumb drive to an auditor or law enforcement official, and if suspicious activity was noted the trucker would be asked for backup documentation.  

Nearly 40 states require tracking information on truckers. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 755 fatalities and nearly 20,000 injures occur every year due to drowsy or fatigued truckers.

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Categories / Appeals, Business, Government

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