Companies, too, might have an incentive to surreptitiously add “extra” hours to a driver’s electronic log so they can complete a delivery without running out of time. Dick Pingel says he’s heard stories like this already from drivers he’s met on the job.

Nevertheless, the trucking industry is gradually falling into line with the idea of mandated electronic recorders. Many of the bigger carriers have made a vigorous effort to adapt early and absorb the cost of implementing EOBRs across their fleet as soon as possible. Thomas Scollard, Vice President of Dedicated Contract Carriage Services for Penske Logistics confirms that the devices have improved planning and saved on huge amounts of paperwork.

As many might suspect, Penske’s stature has not been irrelevant here. “We’re fortunate that, the size we are, we can look at something like this, put some resources against it and say, OK, how do we make this work for us in a positive way?” explains Scollard.

But there are plenty of independents who see new technology as an opportunity too. Cliff Downing, of Iowa, is one of them. Like Dick Pingel, he’s been on the road for three decades, but unlike Pingel, he’s embraced the EOBR with gusto, and even claims that it’s benefitted him financially.

“My gross revenues have been up year over year each year since using electronic logs,” he says. “Now is it due to electronic logs? Not the machine itself, it’s the efficiency that’s been forced onto us by the machine.”

A trucker who, by his own account has, “pulled just about everything there is to pull,” Downing provides several arguments about making the most of the technology at his disposal. For example, he carefully modified his brand new truck with a tuned-up, slightly older engine, to guarantee that it would run at almost two gallons more to the mile than the industry average, saving him thousands of dollars in fuel each year.

Like his vehicle, Downing has streamlined his business over the years. He likes to operate within a specific 5- to 600-mile radius and relies on a list of reliable customers who ship loads such as bulk oatmeal and coiled steel for use in manufacturing.

He says people who complain about the EOBR mandate are simply expressing an innate but unhelpful resistance to change. After all, in Europe, simpler electronic tachographs have been mandatory since the 1970s. And for him, the digital recorder has been a boon. “If I need a log for an officer alongside the road, it’s kind of like… how do ya want it? Do you want me to fax it to you? Here, I can show you on my smartphone! Oh hey, I can open up my Macbook Air, you can look at it on my laptop,” he explains. “You take your pick Mr Cop, I’ll show you any way you want.”

Downing, who has degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science from the University of Alaska, perhaps gets some of his resilience from the military, being a veteran who saw action in Korea and the evacuation of Vietnam.

Later, he quit working for the government because he longed for greater independence. “I worked better in a ‘nobody-hassling-me’ kind of environment,” he says, before describing his subsequent life as an “ice road trucker” in Alaska, where existence was “frontiers-y” and where planning for harsh conditions and break-down was something your life depended on.

The same strategic planning now manifests itself in Downing’s adoption of the EOBR. “I modified my operation to make it work,” he says. “As much as the libertarian in me says no to mandates, they’re coming. You might as well just wake up, face it, and deal with it.”

Trucking is a very big industry, with a diverse range of people in it. Some of them distrust the rise of electronic logging while others have seized upon it. None of the truckers I interviewed discounted the importance of autonomy, however. When I asked Danny Knapp why he liked the job he said this: “It’s just a unique feeling to get on the interstate, riding on top of this 80,000 pound machine and driving 65 miles an hour. When I do it I feel calm and I feel free. I can’t explain it any further than that.

“Maybe it’s something about leaving. You know, we’re always leaving some place. I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s a very free feeling to me.”

Technology might disrupt that, but then again it might not. Knapp, for one, is not opposed to the mandate. Trucking, as well as being big, is also a competitive industry and businesses are constantly looking for ways of understanding their operations in more detail.

Today, OOIDA says it is not currently planning any further legal challenges against the FMCSA, whose rule-making is nearly complete. Everything now falls to the truckers. As technology encroaches, they seem determined, one way or another, to retain their professional independence, the spirit of the open road.

This originally appeared at The Atlantic. More from our sister site:

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