Fleet Management

Electronic Logs: The End of the Comic Book?

December 2009, TruckingInfo.com - Feature

by Deborah Lockridge, Editor, Editor in Chief - Also by this author

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Perry Famularo, a longtime independent contractor for Dart Transit, was "one of those die-hards who said I would retire before I would use a computer for log purposes."
Dart contractor Perry Famularo was skeptical, but fell in love with electronic logs during the company's pilot program. (Photo by Kristin Ries)
Dart contractor Perry Famularo was skeptical, but fell in love with electronic logs during the company's pilot program. (Photo by Kristin Ries)


But when Dart decided to do a pilot program to test electronic logs, they convinced him to give it a try. He was hooked.

"I'm here to tell you it's the smartest move I've ever made," he wrote in Dart's Advantage newsletter earlier this year. "I no longer worry about log violations. I plan my day better - that means better efficiency that translates to more $$$ in my pocket. In fact, at the end of my eight days I end up with more usable time than with the old paper logs."

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Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks? The pilot program was so successful, Dart announced this fall that it would implement PeopleNet's eDriver Logs across its entire fleet.

Dart's not alone. An increasing number of fleets are saying good-bye to paper log books.

There's an increasing belief in the industry that a "universal mandate" of electronic onboard recorders to track driver hours of service is no longer a matter of if, but a matter of when, as Washington Editor Oliver Patton examines here.

Let's face it, paper logs are inherently inaccurate. Even if it's not intentional, drivers can make mistakes in math, or in drawing the graph. A driver might "fudge" a bit for a good reason, say to get to that truckstop half an hour down the road instead of parking on an exit ramp. And then there are the small percentage of drivers - and carriers - who purposely flout hours of service regulations in the name of more miles and more revenue, the ones who keep two log books, the ones who earned paper logs the nickname of "comic books" - the ones the government is targeting with EOBR regulations.

Getting a head start

But forward-looking carriers are going ahead and adopting electronic logs - or at least looking into them - not only so they'll be prepared when a mandate comes, but also because they believe the technology can improve the bottom line.

Schneider National has completed a pilot program to evaluate electronic logs and is in the processing of installing them across the entire fleet via Qualcomm's new MCP200 onboard computer. Company officials are convinced that in addition to the safety and compliance benefits, the company will see increased productivity.

"The carriers we have benchmarked with who have transitioned to electronic logs say they've seen a 4 to 7 percent improvement in productivity," says Don Osterberg, Schneider's senior vice president of safety. Although the company didn't see that kind of improvement in its pilot program, he says, "it seems in the realm of achievable goals."

Since the government first started looking at electronic logs, technology in the cab has advanced by leaps and bounds. Today, you can cost-effectively add an electronic logging module on to an onboard computer/fleet management system that you're also using for everything from asset tracking and driver communication to mapping and navigation to scanning and sending delivery documents to reporting hard braking events or engine fault codes back to the home office. (We'll take a closer look at the specifics of electronic logging technology in a future issue.)

Ready for a mandate

"What I hear from a lot of fleets is they want to control their own destiny," says Tom Flies, senior vice president, product management at Xata. When the notice of proposed rulemaking on electronic onboard recorders came out in 2007, he says, some fleets realized changes were coming. They wanted to make sure they could have a system that not only helped them comply with hours of service regulations, but also helped them manage their business.

Norman Thomas, vice president of information services at CarrierWeb, says he's seeing "far greater interest by for-hire fleets than ever before," as they try to gear up for a future mandate.

At Schneider National, Osterberg says, "I've always embraced the 'change before you have to' mentality. We don't wait to be told to do the right thing, and this is one that was screaming at us" as the right thing to do. "What other vocation hand-writes records of work in 2009?" he asks. "It's unheard-of outside of the trucking industry."

Another company that recently announced the adoption of electronic logs is Southeastern Freight Lines, a regional less-than-truckload carrier based in Lexington, S.C. SEFL is implementing electronic logs from Innovative Software Engineering to use with the Xata hardware they already have in the trucks.

"In a few years, I think you're going to see this as a requirement for your vehicles in your fleet," says Braxton Vick, SEFL senior vice president. "That's one reason we're getting a jump on it. It's better to have a few years of experience with this before it's mandated," he says, rather than having to install a system without proper preparation or training.

"If you're starting from scratch with no experience with them, it's not as easy as just putting a box in the truck and thinking it's going to run," Vick says. "It's all the procedural stuff and integration you've got to do with your existing systems. That's what takes the time."

Schneider's Osterberg echoes that: "Companies spend a lot of time training their driver fleet, but you have to spend as much time training your non-driver associates we well - driver managers, customer service, they all need to understand the benefits and limitations of the system."

Werner Enterprises has been using electronic logs for more than 10 years. Dick Reiser, executive vice president and general counsel, remembers that it "required for some people a real paradigm shift in the way they looked at hours of service. We had to get people to understand that if a driver was two hours away from delivery and was out of hours that we were going to shut the driver down."

In the past, he says, that wasn't always the case - sometimes they'd tell the driver to go ahead and finish the load, even though it meant violating hours rules.

Improved compliance

When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 program goes into effect next year, driver hours of service violations will more significantly affect your company's safety rating.

CSA 2010 "illustrates that FMCSA is planning more aggressive actions to find and correct chronic HOS violators - and may impose remedial directives for EOBR use," says Dave Kraft of Qualcomm (who's also chairman of the American Trucking Associations' EOBR Task Force).

Using electronic logs to help make sure drivers stay compliant can put you a step ahead of the game.

"Paper logs are just not as accurate, for fairly obvious reasons," says Drew Hamilton, executive vice president of Teletrac. "If people are looking for tools to help them adhere to the regulations and enhance the safety of their drivers, I think you'd have a tough time arguing that an e-log is not going to be an effective tool to achieve those goals."

Electronic logs can do this in two ways. They can in real time, proactively warn drivers when they are approaching a potential hours of service violation. And if a driver does violate the hours of service, you'll know much faster than the old system where a driver sends in his paper logs every week or two.

"Today it's about a week before you can get your logs in," explains SEFL's Vick of the paper system. "Even though we scan ours in and image them, they have to go out and be audited, so it can be several days before you know if you have a valid log or not."

Better insight into driver logs can allow you to work with drivers who are having compliance issues and identify problem drivers in your fleet. Systems can be set up for exception reporting, to notify safety personnel if a driver has

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