The U.S. trucking industry is continuing to adjust to the federal electronic logging device mandate that took effect late last year.
Carriers are focused on complying with the regulation, navigating enforcement issues and finding ways to derive additional value from the technology.
The federal ELD rule requires most long-haul drivers to record their hours-of-service information with ELDs instead of paper logbooks.
Some carriers have reported that enforcement officers have shown some leniency because they, too, are still learning. It was a big change for the law, and our law enforcement and the trucking industry. Although hours-of-service rules haven’t changed, the ELD mandate has strengthened enforcement of those rules and leveled the competitive playing field among carriers.
The ELD mandate also tightened the freight market by eliminating capacity that wasn’t compliant with HOS requirements, he said.
It’s hard to determine how much of the capacity crunch is from the ELD mandate and how much is from a stronger economy. Those two factors have combined to make this one of the strongest trucking environments on record.
While the vast majority of the trucking industry has been following hours-of-service laws for some time, there are clearly bad actors that would not comply without enforcement and clear accountability, particularly in industry segments that have historically relied heavily on non-compliant carriers to meet aggressive transit goals.
The current capacity crunch has increased the need for shippers to partner with carriers to maximize utilization by minimizing driver and equipment delays and optimizing mode selection.
Some older drivers may have left the industry rather than install an ELD, the younger generation doesn’t mind the electronic logs. They don’t want to do paper. You have someone 40 or younger, you don’t hear a peep out of them.
Norita Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said the association doesn’t have a way of tracking how many drivers have left the industry, but has heard that some have.
“A few have said they are going to do short haul or buy an exempt truck,” Taylor said. “Some are looking at buying either an older truck or updating with a glider” with a pre-2000 engine.
Trucks with engines manufactured before 2000 are exempt from the ELD mandate.
The mandate has forced better compliance by a small percentage of non-compliant fleets and drivers, but only 4% or fewer of drivers inspected are cited for noncompliance with HOS.
Vigillo, an analytics firm that tracks fleet safety data, has seen a precipitous drop in all HOS violations since the mandate’s enforcement grace period ended April 1, said CEO Steve Bryan.
There were 34,381 violations documented in April, down from the 47,872 issued in March. The majority of violations concerned not having a record-of-duty status, which now must be recorded by an ELD.
Other top violations include failure to maintain an ELD instruction sheet and failing to maintain the user’s manual.
“What the enforcement people don’t understand is those instruction sheets are largely on the screen,” Bryan said. “I think there is some confusion.”
Kerri Wirachowsky, director of the roadside inspection program at the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, said one of the biggest issues facing the industry is that drivers don’t know if they have an automatic on-board recording device or an ELD.
AOBRDs are older electronic logging systems that predate the ELD mandate. Fleets that installed AOBRDs prior to the mandate can keep using them in lieu of ELDs until December 2019.
“The transfer mechanism on AOBRDs and ELDs is completely different,” Wirachowsky said. “They literally look identical, but some of the display screens on the AOBRD don’t have the data an ELD would have and the transfer of the data isn’t the same.”
While AOBRDs are compliant, they don’t necessarily have the ability to transmit the log, Vigillo’s Bryan said. “That is where we’re seeing a lot of these improper violations because drivers don’t know the difference.”
Wirachowsky encouraged carriers to ensure that drivers understand what type of e-log system is in their trucks and know how to download the files.
Although inspectors are doing their best to learn all of the devices, it’s impossible to know how to operate every one, she said.
Hundreds of different ELD systems are listed on an online registry maintained by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
As part of the ELD regulation, drivers must keep supporting documentation for their hours. If you’re a company that is required to have an ELD and the driver doesn’t have an ELD, you get five points for the violation. If the driver does have an ELD and but doesn’t have the supporting paperwork, you get seven points. Half of this mandate was documentation. Drivers must maintain a week’s worth of ELD data for law enforcement review. That includes metadata, such as a driver’s name, time and status. Documentation can include bills of lading, manifests, dispatch records, expense receipts and payroll documents, Belcher said.
If you have to prove your HOS, that documentation is critical to back that up. Carriers also must make the information available for at least six months.
CVSA’s Wirachowsky suggested drivers keep everything in their trip envelope and give it to the inspector.
“Know you have to have supporting documents, know how to work the device and all will go well,” she said.
However, OOIDA’s Taylor said some drivers in the field have expressed frustration after experiencing problems transferring ELD data.
“A few have called saying they were put out of service for not using an ELD,” she said. “Some have said that the only thing an officer has asked for is the ELD and then let them go upon proving they had one.”
Some carriers have noted temporary declines in productivity due to the learning curve of additional administrative time being taken in the truck. Various companies have turned down loads with certain shippers because drivers were likely to be delayed, which can throw off their schedules under HOS.
If you get held up when you get loaded and then you can’t get unloaded. It will end up tying your trucks up for two to three days instead of one day. If you get held up in the first part of your week, it seems like you never get caught up.
Many fleets have found that ELDs make trucking life easier and more efficient. ELDs help some drivers better manage their time, and they collect a lot of other data. They provide greater visibility on HOS, better dispatch and they collect other pieces of data.
That data captured by ELDs can support fleet management in a variety of ways. ELDs that use geofencing can eliminate the need for a driver to make a check call. ELDs also can help identify driver behavior issues. There are probably greater safety gains to be had with the additional data these devices provide over the HOS compliance data.
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