Over time, society has become increasingly comfortable with employers leveraging technology to monitor the quality of their employees. In a world riddled with subconscious biases, the idea of an employer utilizing objective metrics such as emails sent, meetings attended, words typed, etc. appears enticingly politically correct to an employer wishing to proactively mitigate human resources scandal. However, what happens if one does not have a regular desk job? How should society think about the ethics of leveraging biological metrics if one occupies a blue-collar, physical job? One interesting case study investigates the introduction of technology in the trucking industry.
Unless you are somebody who prefers isolation and long hours, being a long-haul trucker is quite a grueling job. Although hourly pay is not a common occurrence, long-haul drivers are typically paid overtime. The maximum allowable overtime is capped by United States regulations. Currently, truckers are only allowed to drive a maximum of 14 hours before taking a required 10-hour break. Additionally, truckers are not allowed to drive more than 70 hours in an eight-day period . This incentive structure results in many truckers pushing their bodies to drive up to the maximum allowable hours per eight days.
Being human, the truckers have their biological limits and need sleep. Being businesspeople, the employers of these truckers want to monitor the drive time of their drivers in order to minimize costs incurred (in the form of overtime payment and fines incurred should a driver attempt to work longer hours than required). This led to a law passing in 2015 and being implemented in 2017 requiring all drivers to equip their truck with Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs). In short, these devices provide an objective measurement of a driver’s productivity and risk by logging things like hours driven and speed .
Although it is generally accepted than more data can lead to a more efficient operation, in this case, it has created a tricky situation in which two parties have conflicting opinions of the true intention behind requiring ELDs. Employers view their implementation as mutually beneficial. On one hand, they will have certainty that their drivers are not lying on their logbooks or working too many hours thus risking fines. Additionally, they believe that they have their drivers’ best interests in mind as they can now ensure they are taking an adequate amount of rests. On the other hand, drivers see ELDs as an invasion of privacy that limits their ability to perform on the job. By forcing a time limitation, drivers may feel the need to speed in order to make up for any loss of time due to unforeseen circumstances. In the case of one driver, Trevor, “I was five minutes short on time, and I was trying to make up five minutes so I could see my family…” . This resulted in Trevor making the decision to speed through a turn and ultimately crashing his truck.
How can the data collected, and the data collection process, be refined to mitigate against this risk? After all, drivers are people and people have different thresholds for when they are too tired to safely perform their job. One potential solution is the SmartCap. The SmartCap is fitted with EEG monitoring to detect signs of sleepiness or fatigue .
While I acknowledge that technology like the SmartCap appears to be a huge overstep in data privacy, I feel that it is ultimately necessary in the case of long-haul trucking. I feel that having no firm regulation incentivizes employers to abuse their truck drivers by demanding unrealistic delivery times. At the same time, I feel that as the regulation stands, incentives are still not aligned. However, careful thought must go into the creation of the regulation. Given the sensitivity of the data, I feel it should be limited to use only while the driver is in the truck and on-the-job.
: “Truck Driving per Hour Salary.” http://www.alltrucking.com/faq/per-hour-salary/
: “ELD Facts.” https://www.eldfacts.com/eld-facts/
: “The Quantified Employee: How Companies Use Tech to Track Workers.” https://www.pcmag.com/news/the-quantified-employee-how-companies-use-tech-to-track-workers