What Owner-Operators and Small Fleets Need to Know about ELDs

The electronic logging device mandate is a different experience for many owner-operator and small-fleet operators than for their larger fleet counterparts.

August 2017, - Feature

by Jim Park, Equipment Editor - Also by this author

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Depending on whether an owner-operator is running a single truck or a small fleet, the fleet management software options available on most devices may or may not be needed. Photo: J.J. Keller
Depending on whether an owner-operator is running a single truck or a small fleet, the fleet management software options available on most devices may or may not be needed. Photo: J.J. Keller

*The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's electronic logging device mandate is causing a lot of confusion and concern among the smallest fleets and single truck owner-operators. With just four months until the regulation comes into force, here are a few things to consider as we brace for December 18 – the date the mandate kicks in.

What type of device do I need?

Owner-operators working under contract to a motor carrier will probably have to use the brand and model of device dictated by the carrier. Who pays for the device and the associated fees will have to be decided by the parties involved.

Owner-operators working under their own authority will have to acquire their own FMCSA-compliant ELD. Since the owner-operator in this case is also the carrier, the owner-operator will have two accounts; one as a fleet manager (the back end) and one as a driver (the in-cab device). The rule requires those accounts to be separate.

Depending on the owner-operator's needs (single truck or small fleet), the fleet management software options that are available on most devices may or may not be needed. That extra functionality is not required by the regulation; however, options such as fuel tax reporting or electronic trip inspection reports can be useful in managing even a single-truck operation.

At their most basic, ELDs must record hours of service information as prescribed by the regulation, and the device must be physically or electronically connected to the truck to capture certain data such as key on an off time, miles traveled, etc. (the regulation describes what is required, and in what format in must be presented). That connection can be physical (by wire) or electronic (bluetooth, for example), but the connection must be maintained at all times the truck is in operation. Devices that offer a cellular data link between the truck's ECM and the device could be subject to cellular drop-outs and could cause a malfunction error on the device.

"The cellular connectivity option is allowed, but it's probably not a good idea," says Mike Davies, vice president for products at BigRoad. "In areas with no cell coverage the connection would be lost."

The device's display must meet the requirements but can vary from device to device. Data transfer for roadside inspection purposes can take place in several ways, and the device must be capable of at least one of the options. The record of duty status (RODS) can be printed if the device is equipped with a printer, downloaded to a USB device for physical transfer to law enforcement's reader, or transferred by Bluetooth or email to the officer. The device can also be handed to the officer for inspection, but the data must be exportable to enforcement in some recognized format.

It's important to note that that the rule does not require real-time transmission of data from the truck to the ELD back-end – the office side – which would require a satellite or cellular data account. "The regulation only requires that the data be submitted to the carrier (the owner-operator's office computer in this case) within 13 days," says Alexis Capelle, ELD program manager at Continental Corp. "That allows for a cost-effective solution for owner-operators by not requiring monthly fees for uploading or data storage or accessibility."

As for the device itself, smartphones and tablets are permitted, provided they are physically or electronically tethered to the truck's ECM through the dataport. Dedicated devices have the same requirement. The device must be secured to the dashboard while the truck is in operation and of course it must be tamperproof.

Options for owner-operators range from smartphone or tablet apps with hardware to facilitate the connection to the truck, to full-scale devices, with or without the optional and scalable fleet management solutions.

Do I need to buy an ELD before December 18?

If you are currently running or plan to acquire a compliant Automatic On-Board Recording Device (AOBRD) before that date, you will have until December 16, 2019, to transition to an ELD. This approach is being recommended by many ELD suppliers, as it will allow fleets and owner-operators an additional two years of breathing room while governments and vendors and enforcement officials sort out some of the remaining confusion over the compliance requirements.

"I'm telling everyone I speak with to get an AOBRD as soon as they can so they can skip right over the crunch in December."

"I'm telling everyone I speak with to get an AOBRD as soon as they can so they can skip right over the crunch in December," says Fred Fakkema, vice president of compliance at Zonar Systems. "It will take at least a year to get enforcement officials trained on the 80 to 100 devices that will be on the market by the end of the year. It's going to be a mess at roadside for a long time to come."

Fakkema, along with many other vendor reps, says Zonar will be ready with a compliant ELD by the deadline, but his current AOBRD device is compliant now and will be compliant until December of 2019.

"When the time comes, all we will require is a firmware upgrade and the device will transition from an AOBRD to an ELD," he says. "When the customer is ready, they can request the upgrade, we'll flash the update and transition will be complete."  

It may sound too good to be true, but an AOBRD is probably the best option possible for small fleets and owner-operators. Get an AOBRD device now and avoid all the compliance problems that are bound to arise after December 2017, and give the market time shake out the scammers from the legitimate product providers.

What type of device should I buy?

With the failure of a Supreme Court appeal by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, and despite efforts in Congress to delay the rule, ELDs now appear imminent, so drivers and owner-operators better start planning to integrate them into their businesses, and soon.

Robin Doherty, president of Edmonton-based Verigo Inc., a supplier of software for electronic logging devices and driver's vehicle inspection reports, says the search for a suitable device should begin with finding something looks, feels and works like a logbook.

"There are lots of devices on the market with lots of bells and whistles, but the only legal requirement of an ELD is HOS compliance," he says. "It may not be immediately obvious which devices will prove to be compliant, but you can certainly narrow the search by eliminating options you don't need and aren't required to have."

Some things to consider:

1. Does the device comply with the regulations? Since it will be nearly impossible for independent owner-operators and very small fleets to test and validate an ELD without extensive knowledge of the regulations and the device's performance, seek written guarantees and assurances from the provider that the device is compliant and that the vendor will still be in business next year or in five years from now.

2. Which device is right for you? There are many devices already on the market and many, many more will enter the market before the December compliance deadline. Decide what you want from your device, whether it's bare-bones HOS compliance or any of the fleet management solutions that are available from most suppliers. Consider the growth potential of your business and whether the FMS options are something you might eventually need. Some of those can be switched on as needed; other providers may not offer them at all.

3. Is your data protected from damage or loss of the device? Who hasn't dropped a smartphone into a toilet? Is that the end of 12 days worth of hours of service data? Data should be stored in a separate off-device location or easily uploadable to the office computer on a regular basis, whether via an internet connection, cellular or satellite. The latter two options may result in additional fees, but the peace of mind of knowing the data is safe might be worth the additional cost.

4. Will the provider still be in business a year from now? Obviously consumers will be looking for support and guidance from their ELD provider, so you want to be sure you're buying from a company with a compliant device, time in the market and the support capability to keep you up and running.

With ELDs, it's Buyer Beware

How does an ELD buyer ensure that a particular device is compliant? If you're a big fleet, you consult your IT department or hire a third-party auditor to verify compliance. If you're a much smaller fleet or an owner-operator without such resources, it will be up to you ensure the device you choose complies with all 516 pages of the federal regulation.

The rule requires ELD providers "self-certify" that their product meets the requirements. There's a list of documents the suppliers must forward to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in order to have that device included on a list of "registered" ELD devices. FMCSA does not actually verify device compliance. The list of registered devices is much like EPA's SmartWay list. Simply being on that list is no guarantee that the device is actually compliant.

Consumers will be in a difficult position if a particular ELD is discovered to be non-compliant after enforcement officials begin working with data from the device. Drivers will be allowed to use paper logs temporarily, but motor carriers will have eight days from notification to replace all non-compliant devices in the fleet with compliant ones.

Once the devices are in service and FMCSA begins auditing carriers for compliance, non-compliant devices will become known and they will be removed from the list. Notices will not automatically be issued advising consumers of non-compliant devices. It will be up to carriers and owner-operators to check periodically to see if their device is still on the list.  

Experienced and trusted electronic recordkeeping and data service providers are warning consumers to be very wary of the low-cost ELDs that will likely flood the market in the next few months.

"It's a nightmare scenario for carriers and particularly owner-operators who do not have the resources to determine which systems are compliant or not," says VDO's Capelle. "The fact that a vendor is on FMCSA's list means nothing. There will be a lot non-compliant product on the market and a lot of vendors who never intend to be compliant. They are just in the market to make a fast easy dollar selling a device they call an ELD, and then they will close up shop and disappear. There are absolutely no consequences for those vendors."


  1. 1. Rich K [ August 15, 2017 @ 09:18AM ]

    What they do not tell you is the used truck market will be flooded when this garbage takes effect.
    If some owner ops have not yet figured it out, they will soon see what a huge cut in pay feels like.
    Get out now while your truck is still worth a few bucks.

  2. 2. Marvin [ August 16, 2017 @ 04:36AM ]

    Imagine that....."It's a nightmare for carriers and owner operators......." . What the small carriers and O/Os need to understand is that they are soon to be dinosaurs.

  3. 3. Carlton [ August 16, 2017 @ 07:00AM ]

    with the government saying they are promoting job growth, this will be biggest job killer ever. I been in business 39 years and this is when I quit. People making our rules are not out in real world knowing what is going on and listening to lobbiest, forcing us to buy their product I am not into this modern technology and don't care about learning it.

  4. 4. HARRY HALLOCK JR [ August 16, 2017 @ 07:44AM ]



  5. 5. John Bowlby [ August 16, 2017 @ 01:19PM ]

    Simple economics - Supply and Demand. For years, many drivers have been forced to run illegal hours of service which artificially inflates how much a driver can do. By working these illegal hours drivers are reducing their Supply and Demand numbers. Electronic logs reduce the illegal hours drivers are currently running. By running legal, the demand for drivers goes up, when the demand goes up to meet the supply, the driver's pay should go up unless you work for a greedy company that tries to keep that extra money. If that is the case you are working for the wrong company. We have been using electronic logs for over 8 years and the drivers are happy and well paid. If you are going to quit over electronic logs, please go ahead and do so as this will only help to increase demand even more which means we can continue to increase our rates and take care of our dedicated drivers.

  6. 6. Mike Severt [ August 27, 2017 @ 08:03AM ]

    We are a small fleet20-25 trucks, We haul produce back from the west coast every week for stores like Public ect. When we get our dispatch we could have 4-7 picks, it is not uncommon for us to sit at a shed out in the middle of nowhere for 10 to 24 hrs waiting for product. When we deliver we might sit at door for 10-12 hrs waiting to unload, this is not everytimme but its very common, we will spend most of our time loading and unloading, This will probably cripple my small business. They have got to do something different with the on duty rule. We are always in the sleeper when we ware waiting for a door, it seems to me like the shippers and receivers are going to have figure something else out, GOOD LUCK TO THE DRIVER. I think they are going to have so many pro.blems they are going to have to revisit this very soon. Dry freight is one thing produce, live stock, and fresh chicken and seafood is another story. Trump better wake up and do something asap or he will see a huge drop in our economy is this sector.With one stroke of the pen he could stop this till we figure out something else on perishables

  7. 7. Walter Singleton [ September 01, 2017 @ 08:23AM ]

    I am a believer in the supply and demand scenario. It's very simple actually rates will have to go up. The supply of truck drivers is down and going further down all the time. There has never been a better time to be in this business in my humble opinion.

  8. 8. jim duncan [ October 25, 2017 @ 08:44PM ]

    trucks are the heart of the oil fields in wyoming,try telling an oil company you are out of hours. when moving a drilling rig, and have to do a reset/lol lol
    expect the price of fuel to go up

  9. 9. USA PRO TRANS [ December 06, 2017 @ 04:57PM ]


  10. 10. Rick Keller [ December 07, 2017 @ 06:09AM ]

    Dec. 7, 1941, Dec. 18, 2017...Days that have and will go down in Infamy. December 7, 1941 was a Sunday, 18 days from Christmas. The Japs bombed Pearl.
    December 18, 2017 is a Monday, 7 days before Christmas. The FMCSA bombed the entirer nation.

  11. 11. Danny [ December 10, 2017 @ 05:20PM ]

    You are a robot now you will do as your government said or you will be vannished

  12. 12. steven james [ December 19, 2017 @ 07:50AM ]

    Frankly, this has been in the works for years. O/O's had a VERY long time to prepare for this change and it was imminent with the growth of technology. Ultimately, safety is priority over hauling goods and no one wants to see a driver on the road for 20hrs straight. It only takes one sleepless night to make a mistake and cause a devastating accident.

  13. 13. Keep the freedom [ December 25, 2017 @ 02:08AM ]

    Make the driver smarter not the truck large companys want elog so they want have to interact with unqualified people or be responsible for them its these large companies an unqualified people who are driving up insurance rates ask any officer in any state who has more accidents an causes more accidents everyone of them will say large companies with there unqualified drivers with there elog make the driver smarter not the truck these people cant even read an atlas much less drive an there appearance is an embarasment .states Will lose revenue there will be over crowding at truck stops look how many people have been run over just tryn to get from there truck to the store an they all been hit by student driver with large companies an there elog .an only a lazy bum can lay around in a truck for 10 hours.whats the use in having dot they dont want elog this country was built on chances an overtime there violating our rites an the so called ooida is a joke .these people large companies are putting on the road are underqualified an a danger to everyone around them an when did we make it ok for a company to ok a person for cdl instead of an officer because there being trained by someone who not qualified there self if we dont stop this now what will they take next .if a company wants elog let them have it same for owner operator but let it be there choice this mandatory is unconstitutional .whats it gone take hospitals not geting supplies store not gettn food an packing houses not getn there cattle for not sayn it want ever work but on some commodities it want but there more moved than dry freight an none of this has been took in consideration. The industry is not ready for mandatory elog an will never be let it be our choice we the ones payn our truck note insurance an maintanance dont let them make us run our bussiness there way its our bussiness.


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