Karen Levy is an author, associate professor in the Department of Information Science at Cornell University and associated faculty at Cornell Law School. Her research focuses on the legal, organizational, social and ethical aspects of data-intensive technologies, particularly in contexts that are marked by conditions of inequality.
In her book, Data Driven: Truckers, Technology, and the New Workplace Surveillance, Levy examines the impact of electronic logging devices (ELDs) on truck drivers. ELDs are devices that are hardwired into truck cabs and track how much time drivers spend driving. The devices were mandated by the US Department of Transportation in 2017 in an effort to reduce truck accidents caused by driver fatigue.
Back in 1980, trucking was still a regulated industry. The federal government set rates in the industry. It was much more heavily unionized. And truckers made about $110,000 a year in today’s dollars, so a pretty decent living.
Truckers today make about $47,000 a year. So half, basically, what they made 40 years ago. And so when you create these conditions, you end up in a position where people are going to end up breaking the law to keep the lights on at home. So if we think that that’s a problem – the federal government doesn’t really want people breaking the law as much as they are.
So they suggested a proposed rule in the Department of Transportation, mandating what are called electronic logging devices [ELD]. And what these are are basically devices that are hardwired into the truck cab that keep track of how much truckers are driving. The idea is that it’s a little digital tattletale. It tells the government what the trucker goes through, a wait station or is inspected. It keeps a record of whether or not that trucker has exceeded the allowable hours. And this is now required of all truckers in the United States.
It’s been required for about five years. And what my research has focused on is the evolution of this rule, of this technology, and trying to understand how the life of trucking and the day-to-day work of trucking looks different when truckers are being monitored this way versus before when they were just keeping track of their time using the pencil and paper.