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!
What You Need to Know about ELD Out-of-Service Guidelines
The electronic logging device mandate will also add several new out-of-service criteria into the mix for trucking companies to follow. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance recently issued the 2017 edition of its out-of-service criteria handbook. To reference the latest edition directly, you can purchase the latest version of the handbook directly from the CVSA website. Both electronic and hard copy versions of the book are available.
For the most part, the CVSA’s out-of-service handbook hasn’t changed much from the 2016 edition. The new criteria updates primarily have to do with the ELD mandate. Specific violations of the mandate can lead to out-of-service punishments for drivers, rigs, and fleets. The handbook outlines the criteria behind these contraventions in detail.
When will ELD out-of-service violation enforcement begin?
While the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration plans to start citing and potentially fining truck drivers for ELD violations on December 18, 2017, these early citations will not result in drivers or their vehicles being put out of service. Instead, the CVSA has informed the FMCSA of its intention to start enforcing ELD-related out-of-service guidelines later. Out-of-service orders for ELD non-compliance will not begin until April 1, 2018.
What is the reason for the delay in out-of-service enforcement?
The CVSA is intentional about leaving a three-and-a-half-month gap between the implementation of the ELD mandate and out-of-service enforcement. This gap is meant to serve as a grace period. It allows businesses and drivers in the motor carrier industry time to get used to the new requirements before the harshest punishments enter the equation. CVSA has used a similar grace period strategy in the past, to help ease the transition process into new industry regulation.
Does the out-of-service enforcement grace period mean that compliance is flexible?
While the CVSA will not immediately start issuing out-of-service violations for vehicles that are not compliant with the ELD mandate, that is not an excuse for truckers or fleet companies to disregard the rules.
The ELD mandate will still go into effect on December 18. Any trucks discovered to be operating without electronic logging devices or automatic onboard recording devices after that date will be cited. Even though no authority will be permitted to put a vehicle out of service for ELD violations to start, that doesn’t mean the punishments will not be significant. Citations for mandate violations will still carry weight, and fines could be substantial.
In fact, the FMCSA has said that companies found to be consistently violating the ELD mandate could face a federal investigation. Such consequences are on the table even before full ELD out-of-service enforcement goes into effect.
What are the new CVSA out-of-service criteria?
Because electronic logging devices will essentially be rewriting the rulebook on truck logbooks, the CVSA has had to revise its guidelines accordingly. In the past, for instance, not having a logbook was considered an hours’ worth of service violation, justifying placing a truck or driver out of service. With the ELD mandate, trucking logbooks will be transitioned to an electronic format. As a result, even under the old guidelines, a truck without an ELD could be considered in violation of one hour of service criteria—at least, if the trucker could not present some form of logbook.
Going forward, traditional logbooks will no longer be the source of information on hours of service compliance or violation. Instead, electronic logging devices will be responsible for logging hours of service. As such, a truck without an ELD and no way to provide an accurate service log will be considered as a violation of hours of service guidelines. That truck would likely be placed out of service for the breach.
Most of the updates to the CVSA out-of-service criteria are just language updates to reflect the new role of technology in the trucking industry. Under the new rules, the absence of an ELD is no longer an implied violation of hours of service criteria. Instead, the new rules concretely establish that trucks must have ELDs installed to avoid contraventions and out-of-service consequences.
The new, rewritten CVSA out-of-service criteria include:
- Drivers and carriers found to be using ELDs not authorized by the FMCSA will be considered to have “no record of duty status.”
- Drivers who cannot produce or transfer data from an ELD or automatic onboard recording device when asked to do so by an authorized enforcement official will be cited for having “no record of duty status.”
- Drivers who do experience technical difficulties with their ELDs or AOBRDs must reconstruct the logs for the malfunctioning devices. The reconstructed logs must include both the current 24-hour cycle and the previous seven days of activity. If a driver cannot reconstruct these records, he or she will be cited for “not having the previous seven days of logs.”
- Carriers must repair malfunctioning ELDs within eight days of the origination of the problem. If a carrier is unable to comply with this requirement, then it must obtain an extension directly from the FMCSA Division Administrator. Failure to follow these steps will result in the driver of the truck in question being cited for having “no record of duty status.”
- The ELD mandate requires drivers to log into their electronic logging devices at the commencement of drive time (and log back out once drive time concludes). If a driver fails to log into the ELD as required by the mandate, he or she will face a citation for having “no record of duty status.”
- Drivers who do not have ELDs installed on their vehicles will be cited for having “no record of duty status.” There is an exception if the truck is equipped with an automatic onboard recording device. As mentioned earlier in this blog, trucks already equipped with earlier AOBRDs are exempt from having to upgrade to ELDs until November 30, 2019. For these vehicles, not having an ELD will not be considered as an out-of-service violation until December 17, 2019.
- Drivers who indicate a special driving category on their ELD when not involved in that activity will be cited for having false driving logs.
What do the new criteria mean?
The main takeaways from the new out-of-service criteria include the following:
- Drivers and carriers have a personal stake in making sure that their ELDs are authorized and fully compliant with FMCSA standards. In the eyes of the CVSA, having a non-compliant ELD is not any different from having no ELD at all. You cannot prove compliance with hours of service guidelines with an unauthorized ELD unit.
- Drivers who notice technical difficulties with their ELDs need to be vigilant about getting the devices fixed as quickly as possible. “Not having enough time” to address the issue is not going to be a suitable excuse to enforcement officials. Drivers who want to stay on the road and avoid citations or out of service orders need to be cognizant of problems with their ELDs and report/fix those issues as quickly as possible. You cannot refute an hour of service violation without a functional device to track your driving logs.
- Drivers need to get into the habit of logging in and out of their electronic logging devices as the ELD mandate requires. Just like a broken ELD is not going to be a valid excuse to avoid a violation, a driver saying they “forgot” to follow protocol is not going to help their case. One of the benefits of the late implementation of out-of-service violation enforcement is that it will give drivers the time to get used to using their ELDs. Drivers and carriers should use that time to adjust to the new rules and figure out how to remind themselves of necessary compliance steps. After the ELD mandate goes into place, failing to log into an ELD will be considered the equivalent of driving routes without filling out a logbook.
- If your carrier is planning to adopt or continue using AOBRD to extend ELD compliance until December 2019, it should double check that the AOBRD in question is recognized by the government. An unrecognized AOBRD could result in a “no record of duty status” violation and the accorded out-of-service order. You can learn more about automatic onboard recording devices on the FMCSA website.
Reviewing these takeaways should help truck drivers and carriers understand what they need to do to ensure 100% compliance with the ELD mandate. Creating a checklist based on these items will drastically reduce the chances of your carrier facing an out-of-service violation.
How long will violating trucks and drivers be put out of service?
Drivers and trucks can be placed out of service for up to 10 hours for each violation of the updated CVSA guidelines. For a driver, truck, or carrier with repeated violations, that time off the road will add up. Carriers are much better off making sure that their trucks are equipped with ELDs and otherwise compliant with FMCSA guidelines. While the process will likely be something of a hassle initially, it should lead to less paperwork, more accurate logging, and safer roads for everyone.
What will the learning curve be like for using electronic logging devices?
One of the big concerns about the ELD mandate for drivers is the learning curve involved. While it’s easy to simplify the mandate into a simple “you must have an electronic logging device installed on your truck by this date” conversation, installation is only the first step. Once the device has been implemented, truck drivers will need to learn how to operate them. While the grace period for out-of-service violations will help lower the stakes for ELD mishaps for the first few months, drivers who struggle to get the hang of using ELDs will eventually be penalized for it.
The learning curve may prove to be quite steep, too, given the amount of control that drivers will have over data edits. The system won’t simply track everything, send it to the fleet admin or back office, and leave the driver with no responsibility for the logs. With older AOBRDs, fleet admins would often review log data in search of mistakes or inaccuracies. A fleet’s back office, then, was responsible for reviewing and logging the final version of the log data—not the driver.
That won’t be the case going forward. Instead, drivers will have the final responsibility for reviewing and submitting data. Administrators at a driver’s home office will be able to review the data and suggest changes. However, if the admin spots an inaccuracy and makes an edit in the driver’s log, that won’t be the end of it. Instead, the data will ping back to the device, which will prompt the driver to accept or reject the change. Drivers need to be aware of this added responsibility and will need to take ownership of their log data like never before.
Even on top of that, the transition is likely to take a lot of time—and be something a hassle for fleets and drivers alike. Fleets will need to research ELDs, choose a provider, set aside time to install the devices on every single truck, and figure out training. Drivers will need to be out on the road, putting their training to use and learning how to use their ELDs (and avoid any associated violations).
The best bet for fleets is to hire a third-party company or bring in personnel that can handle the training process. In addition to training drivers, fleets should train their managers, dispatchers, office workers, and anyone who might interact with these systems. (Read: fleets should train everyone.) That way, there will always be someone in the office that a driver can call to ask a question. Furthermore, the fleet will have personnel in-house who can handle training of new employees later.
How long will all these steps take? It depends on the fleet, the number of drivers, and how geographically spread out everyone is. To be safe, fleets should leave a few months to choose their systems, implement them, and get everyone trained.