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Searches of logging devices installed on vehicles do not violate the Fourth Amendment


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By Patricia Kryder

      For years, interstate commercial truck drivers have been required to maintain paper logs in which they recorded the number of hours driven, the location of the truck routes, and other details. These paper logs were subject to errors and inaccuracies, and easily falsified. Pursuant to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, authorized safety officials may review the paper records without a warrant at roadside truck inspection stations and during audits of motor carriers.

     Due to the improvements in technology, modern electronic logging devices (ELDs) now have the ability to automatically record engine and location data. These devices are designed to ensure that drivers comply with federal regulations governing hours of service.

     Effective December 18, 2017, new federal regulations published by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration require an estimated 3.5 million drivers to have ELDs linked to their vehicle engines. The ELDs record information at specified times, such as when the engine is turned on and when the duty station changes, and once per hour while driving. The ELDs are not a GPS and therefore do not pinpoint a vehicle’s exact location, rather the ELDs provide location within a one-mile radius. When turned on, the ELDs record the date, time, location, engine hours, vehicle miles, driver identification, vehicle identification, and motor carrier identification.

     A trade organization of owner-operated independent drivers brought a complaint against the United States Department of Transportation claiming, in part, that the new ELD requirements violated the Fourth Amendment as an unconstitutional “search and seizure.” The Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected their argument, explaining that in industries that are pervasively regulated, like the trucking industry, reasonable expectations of privacy are diminished. The court reasoned that individuals in the trucking industry have voluntarily agreed to subject themselves to a full arsenal of government regulation.

     The court pointed out that the administrative inspections must still be reasonable. Here, the court found that the ELD mandate was a “reasonable” administrative inspection because it was similar to inspection of service records at roadside inspections and during audits. The court pointed out that reviews of the paper records have long been central to enforcement of the hours of service regulations. Since the search occurs during review of hours of service data, there is not any process different from what has occurred with the paper records for generations of drivers. Rather, ELDs only make the records more reliable and do not affect the reasonableness of the resulting search.

      Accordingly, the court rejected the trade organization’s challenge to the rule on Fourth Amendment grounds, and ultimately upheld the rule as permissible.

 

 

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