The commercial trucking industry has gone through a major shift in compliance, which affects carnivals hiring CDL drivers to haul equipment across state lines.
Under legislation that took effect in mid-December, commercial drivers are now required to operate with electronic logging devices in their vehicles.
There are a few exceptions to the law, which include exemptions for older trucks produced before the year 2000 and drivers making short hauls within 100 miles of the company's home base.
But otherwise, commercial drivers moving rides, games and food trailers across state lines must comply with the legislation, according to Danny Brown, owner of Brown's Amusements.
"I've talked to DOT officials in both Idah
o and Colorado," said Brown, whose Arizona-based carnival plays multiple states. "If you travel the federal highways, driving from one state to the other, there's no way to get around it."
Safety drove the legislation. The devices, commonly referred to as ELDs, are small computers with technology that automatically track the miles and number of hours a commercial driver travels over the road.
The devices can be programmed to send messages to their employer if they exceed the 11-hour driving limit set by the federal government.
The fines for violating the law, depending on jurisdiction, can run up to $500, said Al Scanlan, a consultant who helps carnivals comply with DOT regulations.
Carnival owners say the legislation is a double-edged sword. There are both good and bad things about the devices, based on interviews compiled with multiple show owners over the past year.
The key feature of the technology is it eliminates the need for handwritten drivers logs, the method truckers have used for years to comply with federal highway laws. The devices now compile those records in digital form.
It's a big upgrade for the industry. For carnivals, the system provides relief for both drivers and office managers that already face a stack of paperwork tied to government regulation.
The technology also reduces potential fraud tied to drivers trying to skirt the rules by falsely documenting their hours on paper logbooks.
In the field, ELDs provide helpful tools such as satellite tracking, GPS technology and two-way message systems that enable employers to steer drivers in the right direction should they get lost headed to their destination.
Conversely, it's another expense for carnivals to absorb and the equipment doesn't come cheap.
The devices cost $800 to $900 a piece, depending on the model and technology, plus monthly subscription fees run $30 to $40. For bigger carnivals employing 10 or more CDL drivers, the initial costs can easily run into five figures.
"We're not in the trucking business, but it's one more line we have to tow," said Michael Reisinger, owner of Michael's Amusements, a North Carolina carnival that plays the southeast region.
Separately, some show owners feel uneasy with the notion of what they feel is "Big Brother" peering over their shoulder through the technology.
"It's getting to be like Russia," said Pat Reithoffer, co-owner of Reithoffer Shows.
Others worry drivers could forget to turn the devices off at the end of their work day and run the risk of violation, and that's why educating them on correct usage is important, said Wade Shows owner Frank Zaitshik.
Regardless of concerns, it's now the law. Some carnivals were pro-active about the legislation. Ray Cammack Shows and Gold Star Amusements have both used ELDs over the past six years. Wade Shows is in its third season operating with the devices. Other shows, such as Brown's Amusements, are just starting to retrofit their trucks with the equipment, said Scanlan, who's helping Danny Brown install the devices.
"There's a lot of misinformation out there," Scanlan said. "The feds don't have access to the devices unless they're auditing your show. Whoever your company has hired as the administrator, that's who has access to the information."
Scanlan is a strong proponent of the technology, which he says is easy to install and operate after drivers receive the proper education.
"It eliminates all paperwork for the drivers, who can make mistakes," he said. "Logbook violations are the third-biggest issue in the trucking industry. These devices do a lot of other things too. There's a lot more to it than just the e-logbook."
The ELDs are equipped with small touch screens. To operate the device, drivers create an identification number and password to log into and turn on the equipment. In turn, the device does a quick vehicle inspection before it is activated.
The time clocks on devices used by Brown's Amusements start moving after a vehicle hits the 5 MPH mark, Scanlan said.
There are two clocks on Brown's units, including a "driving clock" for a continuous 11-hour shift. The second option is tied to a 14-hour "on duty" clock to complete an 11-hour shift.
The additional three hours provides flexibility for drivers taking breaks along the way to their destination. As drivers near the end of their shift, a series of voice alerts kick in, starting one hour before the deadline.
Should drivers go past their time limit, the devices can be programmed to send a message to their employer, alerting them to the situation, Scanlan said.
If a law enforcement officer finds a driver in violation, the individual could be ticketed and put out of service for 10 hours. If they find a person's 70-hour work week clock to be in violation, the driver could be off the road for 34 hours, he said.
In addition, if law enforcement stops a truck and decides it meets the requirements of the new ELD mandate but it has no device, the company and the driver could be issued a citation, Scanlan said.
"This could happen more than once a day," he said. "If the same situation occurs after April 1, the truck will be placed out of service."
Gold Star Amusements owner Mike Featherston had ELDs installed in his trucks well in advance of the 2017 deadline. He supports the system and says one time it helped get one of his drivers out of a jam. The driver got lost and was in danger of going under a low bridge and getting his rig stuck. By going online and accessing the ELD technology, Featherston was able to locate his driver, get him to back up his load and find the right road to reach his destination.
"We knew [the legislation] was coming and thought we might as well get used to it," he said. "People in the carnival business don't like to be regulated. But I got to looking at our route and thought there's no reason why we can't do it legitimately. Driving 11 hours is enough. Any longer and you run the risk of falling asleep."
On top of that, the old system of keeping paper logbooks became an issue for Gold Star with some drivers' sloppy handwriting, Featherston said.
"Eighty percent of our trouble [meeting DOT regulations] was in the paper logs," he said. "We went through a DOT audit a few years ago, and at the state police headquarters, they couldn't figure out whose signatures were on the time sheets. We had to take pictures of the time sheets and send them to my son-in-law [handling the CDL program] to verify identification."
Long term, the technology will help clean up one part of the carnival business that's had its flaws over the years, Zaitshik said.
"Eventually, it's going to make drivers more efficient and operators really think long and hard about how to get from Point A to Point B legally and safely," he said. "But it's not going to happen overnight."