Is your fleet or rig ready to be DOT compliant with the ELD mandate?
It better be… because your time is running out.
ELDs, otherwise known as Electronic Logging Devices, have been in use in the trucking industry for 20 years. But it wasn’t until 2012 that the US Congress passed a bill that required the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) to create an ELD mandate for installing such devices in all American commercial trucks.
In December 2015, the FMCSA released a 516-page ruling requiring ELDs. And despite a challenge from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association that’s been appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, that ELD mandate looks likely to stay in place.
There was some hope that the incoming Trump Administration’s freeze on government regulations would halt it — but that hasn’t happened so far. And there seems to have been no move to address it at the federal level.
The ELD Mandate is Coming Sooner Than You Think
What this all means is that by December 16th, 2017, your rig or your fleet’s rigs will have to conform to the ELD mandate.
No matter how big your company is, or if you’re an individual owner operator, if your truck was made after the year 2000, you drive more than a 150-mile radius from your point of origin, and you keep more than 8 log book records in a month, you are targeted for compliance.
However, compliance is not as costly or as complicated as the opponents of the ELD mandate have made it seem.
Let’s take a look at some of the more prominent myths about electronic logging devices… and uncover the true facts about them.
Myth #1: They Cost too Much
Are ELDs cost-prohibitive?
As it turns out, they once were, a few decades ago when the prototypes first made their way onto the market. But even then, when these devices cost five times as much as they do today, fleets still took a chance on them, figuring to make up their initial layout in saved fuel costs, insurance premiums, paperwork, and man hours.
As with everything else tech related, the price of the ELDs has become quite affordable: the average hovers somewhere around $500 per vehicle and a monthly ELD subscription fee that lands somewhere around $30.
FMCSA estimates actually show a savings of $700 a year on average in bypassing the old logbook method. Add the government’s estimate of 15% less vehicle downtime and 20 man hours a year gained by not filling out logs, and the savings become apparent.
Myth #2: They Make it Harder to Drive
One rumor that spread quickly among truckers opposed to the ELD mandate was that it would require on-road driver interaction with the devices, which was seen as being possibly distracting, dangerous, or worse, like texting while driving.
In actual fact, drivers are required to log in as “on duty” before their vehicle gets on the road. They’re also required to log back in as “off-duty” or in a sleeper berth whenever their drive time is up — but at that point, they should be off the road anyway.
Because it’s connected directly to the engine, the ELD will know if they’re not off road; therefore, it’s impossible to even change your status while driving.
The only interaction with truckers is one-way… and that’s when the ELD begins the countdown of available road hours. This can be done audibly or visually, depending on what’s most comfortable for the driver, but no trucker should have to physically interact with his ELD in any way while he’s rolling.
Myth #3: ELDs Send Reports to the Feds
Much like GPS technology, the monitoring system inside the ELD has inspired a lot of paranoia in some truckers who fear that any HOS (hours of service) violations they commit will find their way directly to the government.
ELDs do log these violations, and a really good one should have a warning system that will inform the trucker long before he accidentally commits one. But in point of fact, your ELD data is not automatically seen by anybody except the employees at your company who would be looking at your paper log book anyway.
What the ELD will do, however, is save you a lot of time when someone does need to look at your logs; for example, a state trooper or someone that’s conducting a roadside inspection.
The DOT protocol for an audit of your company’s paperwork is exactly the same process, except the info has already been recorded and standardized across the board. It means you’ll be back on the road much sooner than if you had to present a bunch of paperwork!
Myth #4: They Pinpoint You at All Times
Likewise, drivers don’t like to have the feeling that their ELD is monitoring their rig at all times, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, no matter where they are or what they’re doing.
The good news is, ELDs don’t do that.
Again, only your fellow employee at the trucking company will know the location of your vehicle — and when you’re in off-duty mode, the device will only pinpoint you within 10 miles of your actual location.
This is great for when you’re using your rig for personal reasons on your own time. You can be pinpointed within a mile while on duty, but that’s only natural.
Myth #5: ELDs can Shut Down Trucks
Because it connects directly to your truck’s engine, unlike early prototypes of the ELD, the modern version has been accused of being able to shut down a truck’s engine entirely when it’s in violation.
Some ELD manufacturers actually do incorporate shut down technology — but these are few and far between. Also, and this is the important part, so pay attention — the federal ELD mandate does not require an ELD to have this capability.
If your company insists on using an ELD that can shut down your engine, file a protest, or find a better company to work for. An ELD should only monitor stats like speed, mileage, hours, driving habits, and location.
Myth #6: They Don’t Prevent Crashes
Certain segments of the anti-ELD community pushed back hard against the notion that this technology actually makes driving safer, but the research has been done for 20 years, and the numbers are in.
Rigs equipped with ELD devices have demonstrated a 5% reduction in preventable crashes and a nearly 12% reduction in all crash rates, which the government estimates will prevent 562 injuries and nearly 30 fatalities on a yearly basis.
This is partially due to the fact that ELDs cut hours of service violations nearly in half by keeping drivers off the road when they shouldn’t be on it.
It’s not true, however, that the ELD specifically stops the truck physically, or prevents drivers from making mistakes in traffic by preventing lane changes or speeding. What it will do is log bad driving practices for the books.
Again, only your company will know.
Myth #7: They Don’t Save Money
Another push back from the anti-ELD crowd has to do with finances. The system was sold to companies in the first place on the basis that it would save their fleets money, and while the process is incremental, it does produce results.
We’ve already seen that ELDs replace the trucker’s old paper log books by directly tracking how many hours the rig in question is on the road, but by also alerting the driver when his shift is near its end, you can save a company a lot of money in fines and penalties.
In the same way, paper log books used to require that a driver round up his shift to the nearest 15 minutes, whereas the far more accurate ELD system tracks driving time right down to the second.
It doesn’t seem like much. But those little increments of time add up, just like those fractions of a penny in Office Space.
The federal government estimates that for each and every rig currently on the road, nearly 10% of its annual fuel bills are spent by being idle, money shot into the air of a parking lot or dock somewhere. For every $70,000 spent on gas per year, the ELD can save each rig nearly $6,000.
Myth #8: ELDs are Only for Large Fleets
There’s also been a lot of concern that the ELD mandate is bound to cut out the little man — specifically, the individual owner-operator. In some extreme cases, rumors were spread that small trucking concerns wouldn’t need to use ELD at all.
The fact is, every commercial trucking operation that fits the criteria described at the beginning of this article will need to be compliant under the new ELD mandate. But because money is saved on every single rig, even a small outfit of less than 20 trucks will still benefit.
No matter how big an operation you’re running, the money you’ll save on paperwork, inspections, fines, penalties, and fuel from bad driving practices will more than offset any hours or miles you lose from complying with federal HOS regulations.
Myth #9: A Smartphone Works Just as Well
The advent of recent ELD technology has proven confusing for some drivers, who assume their smartphone can do just as good a job with its GPS in identifying when and where the truck is rolling at any given time.
But no matter how advanced your smartphone is, it can’t connect to your truck’s engine and track things such as excessive braking and acceleration. much less the number of miles you travel.
It’s a moot point anyway, as the FMCSA won’t recognize smartphone data as a substitute for the ELD mandate.
The good news is that your smartphone can help! While its GPS data won’t be enough to get you off the hook in case of a violation, some ELDs have free mobile apps that work with the device in question to make it even easier to operate.
A good ELD mobile app, when synchronized with an ELD already installed in your vehicle, will allow you to update your duty status from anywhere easily, take care of your inspection reports, and greatly simplify and speed up DOT inspections by saving your ELD logs for the past 8 days.
However, the government will only allow you to use that app if it is part of a recognized ELD device.
ELDs: Don’t Fear the Future
The December 2017 ELD mandate is definitely presenting a new challenge for the trucking industry by enforcing strict safety guidelines, both in scheduling and driving.
If you already have an earlier automatic onboard recording device, or AOBRD, recognized by the government, you have until November 30th, 2019 to switch over to the modern ELD device in order to meet the ELD mandate.
Truth be told, there’s no reason to be afraid of the future.
Electronic logging devices connect to your truck’s engine in order to record when the truck is in motion. It pinpoints the truck to within a radius of 1 mile when the driver is on duty, but only 10 miles when the driver is off duty.
It records the status of a driver, whether he’s on or off duty, driving or not, or sleeping. It keeps track of the available legal hours he is allowed to be on the road and warns him when that limit is about to be reached.
It takes that information and saves it in a format that is easily accessible and visible only to the employee at the trucking company who monitors such information.
It is not automatically presented to anyone else. It is only seen during an inspection, law enforcement stop, or an audit. That’s it.
The ELD Mandate Isn’t a Crisis, It’s an Opportunity
However, compliance is mandatory. Federal fines and penalties for not complying with the ELD mandate can be stiff.
There’s absolutely nothing to be gained by waiting any longer in outfitting your truck or fleet with an electronic logging device. It will not only make you compliant when the mandate goes into effect, it will start saving you money, paperwork, fuel and manhours in the meantime!
Embrace the future of a safer, saner, more honest, and more efficient logging system… and start outfitting with ELDs today!