At the close of 2017, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) deadline came due for implementing certain changes to trucking industry standards and practices announced in 2015. The Electronic Logging Device or ELD Fleet Mandate affects hundreds of thousands of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) owners and operators across the United States, Canada and Mexico. The ELD fleet mandate is mentioned in section 32301 of the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Enhancement Act as part of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) Act, and calls for the Secretary of Transportation to adopt regulations requiring electronic logging devices be used in CMVs involved in interstate commerce when operated by drivers who are required to keep records of duty status (RODS). These RODS not only capture the hours worked by the operator, but whatever else the fleet management requires for recordkeeping purposes such as company name, truck or tractor/trailer number, location and hours on-duty but not driving, location and hours driving, hours and location of sleeping while on the road (sleeper berth), etc.
What exactly does all of that mean to the trucking industry and why is this happening? These, as well as many other questions, have arisen from the ELD fleet mandate that affect motor carrier safety enforcement and compliance.
The ELD fleet mandate and loss of sleep
First, let’s take a look at how this ELD fleet mandate situation got started: sleep deprivation. It has long been known that lack of sleep leads to fatigue, which causes diminished cognitive ability, stress and irritability. Studies from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) to the National Sleep Foundation and beyond all show the effects on our body’s vital signs varying from minor distractedness and drowsiness to death. Arianna Huffington has written a book on the need for sleep and has turned her attention to supporting rest related programs, and actor Jeff Bridges has added ”sleep guru” to his list of talents.
Getting appropriate rest plays heavily in the ELD fleet mandate. It is shown that those who drive for a living are among the most at risk group for sleep related issues and, consequently, road accidents due to the lack thereof. Operators of passenger and property-carrying automobiles over long distances tend to work far beyond the usual 8-hour a day/40-hour a week schedule with very fast turnarounds. These commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers have what are called hours-of-service (HOS) parameters. This means there are specific numbers of HOS that CMVs can operate within a set period of time before they are required to rest before getting back behind the wheel. Freight and passengers, however, are commerce and that means there’s a need to deliver both to their destinations in a timely manner in order to ensure payment. Happy customers make a business, unhappy customers destroy one. The process of recording duty status by logging on-duty hours has, in the past, been easily manipulated. This happens when CMV operators don’t even realize they’ve gone past their HOS or fleet managers push the truck drivers to fudge the information to ensure delivery schedules are met. This, then, leads to working far longer on much less sleep than is legally allowed and healthy, which, in turn, causes accidents.
Paper logs and ledgers were the only forms of tracking available to motor carriers for generations. With the advent of digital tools and the use of telematics, electronic logging via automatic onboard recording devices (AOBRDs) was added. These electronic logs capture the activity of truck drivers far more effectively than paper, but can also be revised. ELD’s, however, track even more than the AOBRD and monitor driving as closely as the FMCSA requires. These electronic logs are now mandatory in all long-haul CMVs. While the ELD fleet mandate and the digital monitoring may be new, keeping a record of duty status and HOS requirements are almost as old as the industry that regulates trucking.
The rules of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC)
The Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) was founded in February of 1887 to first oversee the railways and, ultimately, trucking and all CMVs. A half-a-century later, the commissioners established the HOS in response to public concerns about the safety of commercial operators on the road. Back then, truck drivers could work 12 hours in a 15-hour period. The term “work” covered everything from the driving of the vehicle to the handling of freight and all of the logistics that go into that — loading and unloading, vehicle service, etc. That 12 in 15 hours allowed for 3 hours of meals and rest breaks, all followed by 9 hours of rest before going back on-duty. For non-daily drivers, 60 hours of work over 7 days was allowed, 70 hours over 8 days for daily drivers. This has changed over the years and the ICC was abolished in 1996 with its duties now taken over by FMCSA, but a significant revision to the rules was the 34-hour restart. This means that those 60 or 70 hours can be reset to zero as long as those blocks are followed by 34-hours of uninterrupted, off-duty rest. The full rules deal with a variety of HOS regulations all meant to combat the excessive cumulative fatigue these drivers experience.
This is why the ELD fleet mandate has been initiated. As a rule, all CMV operators carry some type of ledger on-board to track their on- and off-duty hours. In the early days, it was a paper logbook — then it became the AOBRD that handles electronic logging. As mentioned, this device is considered easily manipulated in response to the needs of whatever the job is. Delivery means money and when these drivers aren’t working, neither they nor the motor carriers aren’t getting paid, because freight and/or passengers aren’t being moved. Truckers are compensated in a variety of ways — based on mileage, hourly, percentage of the freight, and variations on within all of those categories. It is to both the driver and the motor carrier’s financial benefit to rework the system outwardly so as not to be penalized for non-compliance within the context of their duty status while still pushing to drive longer hours and carry heavier freight to get property and passengers where they need to be on time.
The ELD is a more accurate and uncrackable technology that gathers a broader range of information than the AOBRD. The FMCSA has required it in order to keep the CMV’s adhering to the appropriate HOS and will penalize those who do not. Several companies have prepared products to help trucking companies and drivers adhere to the ELD mandate more efficiently and the FMCSA has prepared a list of approved suppliers and equipment.
One solution that makes charging and data collection seamless for digital devices now being touted for ELD is the IntelliSkin®, a patented case with an integrated connector molded right into its frame. The IntelliSkin® is compatible with GDS® docking stations — self-contained charging and data collector/transfer components that use the patent-pending GDS® technology to allow users to charge and manage their data directly between their device and the dock through the IntelliSkin®. These docks can be placed on a CMV operator’s dash, connect to the automobile’s engine to collect data and charge. All the driver has to do is slip his or her ELD into the appropriate IntelliSkin® sleeve, connect the port of the device to the one in the case, then place it into the GDS® dock to begin receiving/sending and charging.
As a way to better understand what all of this means, here are just a few questions that many may have about the mandate, how it affects carrier safety ratings, and more.
What are HOS (hours of service)?
Hours of service (HOS) are the working hours spent by those CMV operators — this includes the hours spent driving, loading, unloading, etc.
What operators are affected by the ELD Fleet Mandate?
All long-haul commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers operating in the continental United States are affected by the ELD Fleet Mandate. This includes drivers entering the U.S. from our two bordering countries — Canada and Mexico.
CMVs are basically any vehicle used to conduct business and fall into any one of the following categories (per the FMCSA website):
- Weighs 10,001 pounds or more
- Has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combined weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more
- Is designed or used to transport 16 or more passengers (including the driver) not for compensation
- Is designed or used to transport 9 or more passengers (including the driver) for compensation
- Is transporting hazardous materials in a quantity requiring placards
When did the mandate go into effect?
By December 18, 2017, all long-haul CMVs are required to have an ELD on their vehicle. However, if CMVs already have an AOBRD, this can be “grandfathered” in and used until December 2019. While all other drivers will be fined to varying degrees if they do not have ELDs or the devices are not shown to be compliant, they will be given a grace period until April 2018 to get everything in order.
What is the difference between the automatic onboard recording device (AOBRD) many drivers already have and the ELD?
Automatic onboard recording devices (AOBRDs) track much of the same information the ELD monitors, but it’s more basic and allows for certain types of edits without readily displaying the history of the revision. ELDs are virtually uncrackable, display all info for DoT inspectors to see, do not allow for automatically captured information to be edited only annotated, are more accurate and capture more detailed information on HOS.
What happens to paper logs?
Paper logbooks still need to be kept in CMVs just in case the ELD breaks down. Should that happen, drivers will need to record the HOS manually and get a new device within 8 days. If they are discovered to be out of compliance by a DoT inspector, the operator will be fined.
What does this mean for independent owner operators?
In December 2015, almost as soon as the ELD fleet mandate was announced, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) filed a legal petition opposing the mandate. It was denied. The concern from OOIDA is the loss of privacy for its driver members and that the new rule doesn’t really create a safer driving environment. Regardless, the mandate is now law and fleet managers are required to ensure all of the operators in their employ adhere to this rule — something the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association continues to fight. If owner-operators are contracted to a motor carrier, they will most likely need to install the devices fleet management favors. If they are working independently they will have to use those that are on the FMCSA’s list of certified ELD’s.
What’s the penalty for non-compliance?
The fines for ELD non-compliance range and can be rather steep. Per J. J. Kelly & Associates, a well-known provider of safety and compliance equipment and tools for agencies and companies focused on Transportation, Workplace Safety and Human Resources, penalties can be levied in the following ways:
- An out-of-service or shut down penalty can be handed down on the road by a law enforcement officer, which means the driver will not be able to operate the CMV until he or she has accrued enough off-duty time to be back in compliance
- Local law enforcement can assess its own fines and penalties
- Driver and carrier scores that are recorded in the Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) enforcement program may be lowered, leading to additional penalties and enforcement
- Civil penalties ranging from $1,000 to $11,000 per violation can be imposed upon a driver or motor carrier by the FMCSA, depending on the severity of the non-compliance
- Chronic non-compliance can lead to a carrier’s safety rating being downgraded
- Carriers who “knowingly and willingly allow or require hours-of-service violations” can find themselves facing criminal charges. This last comes under “harassment” and is heavily enforced by the FMCSA.
As a note to penalties, for all those operators who had AOBRDs on their vehicles before the December 18, 2017 deadline, they have until December 2019 to shift to an ELD. In addition, out-of-service fines will not necessarily be imposed upon those who are found to be out of compliance until after April 2018. Smartphones and tablets can be used to collect the data from ELD’s and AOBRD’s as long as they adhere to the technical requirements as set down for ELD’s by the FMCSA.
Informing and enforcing
This new mandate has as many detractors as it does proponents. There is concern from those opposing the ruling that the training on the electronic logging devices isn’t clear and that the companies the FMCSA has designated as providers are self-certifying the devices they are providing as opposed to an objective oversight group. In addition, those motor carriers and drivers who are against the mandate don’t believe this will do anything to help with safety and feel it will unduly burden both fleet management and operators financially — being taken out of service will cause customer dissatisfaction and loss of wages.
The groups supporting the ELD fleet mandate see it as a chance to lower motor carrier harassment and abuse of CMV operators — there have been issues with fleet managers pushing truck drivers to work beyond their comfort level. These advocates for the new ruling believe it will make the roads safer by affording operators to get more actual rest, thereby sharpening their cognitive awareness and ability to appropriately react to any situation on the road. Conversely, by providing more ways to gain the rest needed to operate effectively, those in favor of the mandate see this as a way to ensure more timely and efficient delivery of goods and passengers.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is well aware this is causing confusion and displeasure for some, but the department also sees this as a smart move forward for the commercial transportation industry. It has prepared a site to address a broad range of questions about the ELD fleet mandate on its website. Protecting the drivers, fleet management, motor carriers, customers and the public is the goal with this new ruling. It is worth watching how it progresses to see how more stringent electronic logging will change the CMV industry as a whole, and whether this will move the needle in the right direction in regards to accidents, safety and more in the months and even years to come.