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Transport Watch: Are You Ready to Comply with the New ELD Rules for Trucks?
New Trucking Regs: Paper logs are out and electronic logging devices are in for tracking truck drivers hours of service. Are you ready? Find out the various options and what you should consider when transition from paper records.
By Lisa Monroe
Date Posted: 5/1/2016
New Trucking Regs
Paper logs are out and electronic logging devices are in for tracking truck drivers hours of service. Are you ready? Find out the various options and what you should consider when transition from paper records.
In December 2015, the electronic logging device (ELD) rule was announced by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Basically the rule requires carriers and drivers who use paper logs or logging software to switch to electronic logging by December 2017.
Carriers already using onboard recording devices prior to the compliance date will have an extra two years to transition to ELDs.
An ELD synchronizes with a vehicle’s engine to automatically record driving time and track a driver’s hours of service, and one reason for the switch is to make it harder for drivers to cheat on their hours if the truck’s movements are electronically monitored and recorded.
But some opponents of the rule are saying that it may initially put smaller carriers and one-man operations out of business. A concern is this would ultimately drive more business to the larger carriers who will be in a position to raise their rates. Many larger carriers already use ELDs, also called electronic logs or e-logs, and have been pushing for a rule of this kind for many years.
If a lot of the smaller operations do shut down, this “could send truckload rates higher, perhaps by double-digits,” according to a recent JOC.com article, while in the long run, the placement of ELDs on “millions of tractor-trailers could lead to a data explosion that could revolutionize how the flow of freight is managed as it moves through North America.”
“The smaller carriers –specifically, owner operators – will probably wait until the last minute to buy one, since a) it’s an expense that someone running a business on very tight margins would prefer not to have to deal with, and b) it’s a change of habit, from paper to e-logs,” said Ken Harper of DAT Solutions based in Portland, Oregon.
DAT Solutions is the world’s largest freight marketplace, and also sells transportation software and DAT InView, a fleet management system aimed at small and midsize carriers that includes automated compliance reports.
“Some people believe paper logs are easier to fudge, but e-logs are also amenable,” Harper commented.
Tom Bray, editor at J.J. Keller & Associates, agreed that it is possible to cheat on e-logs. He added that drivers at larger companies actually have an advantage when it comes to cheating since they’re more familiar with the electronic systems and how they work. Previously, Bray was a trucker for eight years in Canada and the United States prior to working his way up through the fleet safety side of the business.
Productivity Concerns Examined
One of the major concerns about ELDs is the potential for lost trucker productivity.
“As for loss of productivity, the initial ding comes with installation and getting used to a new system, as well as adhering to whatever hours of service are finally agreed upon,” said Harper. “However, after that, it will be business as usual; in fact, e-logs save drivers so much time that I’d be surprised if basically everyone doesn’t see productivity gains just from the 15-minute daily savings e-logs provide.”
Bray said, “The curious thing that I see is that a lot of companies worry about it, but when they actually sit down and see that their drivers already run legal on paper logs, then they realize it’s not going to be such a bad thing for them.”
The ones who are thinking about getting out of the business because of the mandate are probably thinking of getting out of the business anyway, or they realize that they can’t stay afloat and operate legally, according to Bray. Those who are “routinely operating illegally and need that productivity to stay afloat…yes, they will have a problem with the mandate,” he said.
“The interesting thing is that a lot of people swore against them. Then as soon as they get them in their trucks, it’s like whoa, these things are pretty spiffy. I’ve seen that happen with drivers and supervisors,” Bray said. “They become big proponents…it’s an interesting transition.”
What Are Things to Consider for Compliance with the Mandate?
First of all, what companies need to do is figure out what they want in a system, Bray stated. For example, do you want a simple recording system or do you want a system that runs your back office, tracks driving behaviors like hard braking, and more?
Once you’ve assessed your needs, the next step is to find a vendor that offers a system that can fulfill those needs. “There are a ton of ELD options out there. All have their unique bells and whistles so it can become confusing,” Bray said. And of course, each vendor claims to have the best options.
What’s most important is that the option that you choose is compliant. Under the new rule, the FMCSA requires ELD manufacturers to make sure their ELDs conform to certain technical specifications are certified, and registered with the administration.
Another important consideration when choosing a system is price. And of course, the more bells and whistles that you choose, the more expensive the system is going to be.
J.J. Keller, for example, offers everything from the basic compliance edition of Encompass which is a very affordable and simple recording device that just records hours of service all the way up to a version that can report on everything from hard braking to fuel mileage and other performance data.
The DAT InView system by DAT Solutions is aimed at small, for-hire carriers. Its system reportedly installs in minutes, and immediately transmits and receives information, enabling turn by turn directions, check calls, and other communications between driver and dispatch. It comes in three packages, starting with a low monthly subscription.
There are a lot of other popular choices out there as well, including Fleetmatics REVEAL Digital Logbook, VDO Roadlog™ ELD Plus, BigRoad DashLink, Teletrac, EDGE MDT and others.
Rollout and Implementation Steps
Once you’ve found the right system, the next step is the rollout. You’ll have to decide how you will introduce the new system to your drivers, which drivers to include in the first and subsequent phases, how you will train them, and what that training will include.
You’ll also have to answer some practical questions about hardware such as: “How are you going to get it installed?” and “What are the right mounting locations?” according to Bray.
“One misconception is that you just plug it in and be happy,” he said. “It’s not that simple.” Basically, you’ll have to put a whole implementation plan together, and figure out “how to get it deployed out into the fleet so it doesn’t create undue heartburn and problems.”
J.J. Keller has eLog implementation experts who work with companies that buy their e-log systems. They help with rollout, including training, and they are also the go-to persons to help customers solve problems while fleet management and drivers are learning the ins and outs of e-logs. While e-logs may be new to customers, Bray said he’s been working with them for 10-12 years, as have other professionals at the company, so problems that may seem like big deals to a customer may be easily solved.
“We’re a compliance company so we approach everything from a compliance perspective,” said Bray. “We focus more on that than the hardware. Another big advantage we have is that our system runs in the cloud, and the driver can use his/her own smartphone or tablet to connect to it. It’s the driver’s own device; the app is on his device. It doesn’t have to stay on the truck.”
This has a lot of advantages for the driver. For example, the “driver can change the duty status away from truck…when in the truck, they just hook up to the truck and don’t have to worry about it.”
For companies that want more bells and whistles, the more feature-rich Encompass edition offers a robust back office system that stores all “the records that a carrier has to keep under safety regulations” such as accident files, driver qualifications, and drug and alcohol testing records. Then it “lets you know when something is due,” Bray said.
When asked whether drivers may try to speed or use other unsafe driving behaviors if they’re short on hours and close to a drop-off point, or other similar scenarios, Bray said that as part of a fleet’s implementation plan, they really need to provide drivers with information on how to handle different scenarios.
“The last thing you want is a driver stopping on the shoulder of the interstate,” said Bray, “because, let’s say, he is 15 minutes shy of his next stop, and he is out of hours.”
Basically, processes need to be in place to prevent drivers from getting into situations like that to begin with, and then to teach them what to do if things do go wrong. “That’s inevitable,” said Bray, and fleets need to decide how they are going to deal with various types of scenarios, “that if not dealt with correctly, could create an unsafe situation.”