Data Driven: Truckers, Technology, and the New Workplace Surveillance

Article Source: Princeton University Press, 2023
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Digital enforcement of rules intended to combat truck driver fatigue erodes drivers’ autonomy without reducing accidents. Truckers are paid by the mile, creating incentives for overwork.


Policy Relevance:

Digital enforcement of legal rules may be ineffective if policymakers do not address more fundamental economic problems.


Key Takeaways:
  • Digital enforcement is the use of technology to enforce legal or organizational rules; however, human society cannot function without some rule-breaking.
  • Workplace surveillance today is far more extensive than in the past.
    • Very detailed data is collected from physical movements or from social media.
    • Decisions are made by opaque automated systems.
    • Boundaries between work and social life are blurred.
  • Truckers are paid by the mile, giving them the incentive to drive when tired; in 2017, the federal government required the installation of electronic logging devices (ELDs) in commercial vehicles to combat driver fatigue, rather than addressing problems with drivers’ pay.
  • Following the deregulation of trucking, truckers no longer earned hourly pay for nondriving time, and the law does not require payment of overtime.
    • Truckers are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act.
    • The power of transport unions declined with deregulation.
  • Truckers opposed ELDs as an affront to their independence; the courts rejected challenges to ELDs based on the theory that the mandate amounted to a warrantless search.
  • The ELD mandate did not decrease trucker crashes because drivers now take fewer breaks, worried they will run out of time to deliver their loads.
  • Digital monitoring changes how truckers are managed by their companies; dispatchers give drivers more fine-grained instructions, eroding the drivers’ autonomy and discretion.
  • Police, truckers, and other workers subjected to surveillance often try to evade the monitors; in particular, truckers resist ELD monitoring using the following methods:
    • Physically tampering with the system, perhaps by writing over the lens with a marker.
    • By editing the software or hacking the system to distort the captured data.
    • By logging in as another user.
    • Many older, experienced drivers have left the industry.
  • Autonomous vehicles might gradually replace human drivers, but cannot do this easily, as human drivers do much more than just driving.
    • Robots could handle routine driving in good conditions, with the human driver taking over in crowded areas or in bad weather.
    • Alternately, transport firms could adopt a network coordination model, using robots for long-haul transport and truckers for local trips.
  • Digital enforcement of rules allowed policymakers and firms to ignore real problems in the trucking industry; policymakers should focus on social and institutional arrangements around technology, not on the technology itself.



 Karen Levy

About Karen Levy

Karen Levy is an Associate Professor in the Department of Information Science at Cornell University, associate member of the faculty of Cornell Law School, and field faculty in Sociology, Science and Technology Studies, Media Studies, and Data Science. Professor Levy researches the legal, organizational, social, and ethical aspects of data-intensive technologies. Her work explores what happens when we use digital technologies to enforce rules and make decisions about people, particularly in contexts marked by conditions of inequality.