After years of study, the federal government says it will implement new safety regulations in two years that are aligned with U.S. efforts to tackle fatigue among truck and bus drivers.

Drivers will be required to electronically record their hours on the road, says Transport Canada, marking a change from the mandatory paper logs that have been in use since the 1930s.

The regulations would cover cross-border and interprovincial travel and should be in place when similar rules in the U.S. come into force in late 2017, Transport Canada says.

The changes will be "operationally feasible for the industry" and aligned as much as possible with provinces and the U.S., said Transport Canada spokeswoman Natasha Gauthier.

"The technical specifications and standards for electronic logging device (ELD) technology may differ slightly between the U.S. and Canada, but should not be necessarily inconsistent," she wrote in an email.

Ottawa slow to act

In making the changes, the Liberal government is following through on a commitment made last year by former transport minister Lisa Raitt. But the Conservatives did not set a timeline.

Industry players have been frustrated by how long it has taken Ottawa to change the regulations.

"We have been talking about this for 10 years," said Motor Coach Canada CEO Doug Switzer.

"Ironically, the industry would like to see regulations on these kinds of things and it's the government that is dragging their feet on it."

Once implemented, commercial truck and bus drivers will be required to record their hours behind the wheel with devices that automatically record driving time by monitoring engine hours, vehicle movement, kilometres driven and location information.

Saves lives and money

The devices are estimated by the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to annually save $1 billion US in administrative costs, about 26 lives and prevent 562 injuries. Similar Canadian figures weren't available.

The units also make it easier for provincial officials monitoring compliance and should address concerns that handwritten forms could be doctored.

The Canadian Trucking Alliance says the move towards electronic logs will bring the industry into the 21st century.

"Our industry shares its workplace with the public more than any of the other mode of transportation, yet the enforcement community is relying upon an archaic, outdated way of monitoring and enforcing what is arguably the most important safety rule," said president David Bradley.

13-hour days

The devices, which cost an average of a couple of thousand dollars depending on type of unit, track hours on the road and rest periods to help companies to better manage their fleet.

Truckers and bus drivers can be behind the wheel for up to 13 hours in a day but must be off-duty for 10 hours, eight of which must be consecutive.

Bradley said about half of Canadian trucks have or are in the process of installing electronic devices.

TransForce, one of North America's largest trucking companies, said the devices are already installed in all of its big fleets in the U.S.

"It's just the small guys that are not ready yet but they will have to get ready for the end of 2017," CEO Alain Bedard told analysts during a conference call Friday.

There is general acceptance among drivers, even though privacy concerns have been raised because the electronic devices allow companies to track their every move, says Leo Laliberte, assistant director of the freight division of Teamsters Canada, which represents about 25,000 truckers in the country.

Canada's unique challenges for truckers

In addition to reducing fatigue, the devices and anti-harassment provisions in U.S. regulations protect workers from being forced by companies facing driver shortages to work longer hours, he said.

Laliberte said the regulations in Canada should take into account the country's unique challenges, including longer travel distances and fewer rest stops compared to the U.S.

"In Canada, you've got to plan like five hours ahead to make sure that you'll be at a truck stop when your machine is going to tell you you won't have any more hours," he said.

Joanne Ritchie, executive director of the Owner-Operator's Business Association of Canada, said small fleet owners also aren't opposed to the adoption of new technology but favour a voluntary system that includes incentives.