One of the bugaboos to the quick adoption by fleets of electronic logging devices compliant to the new rule that takes effect on December 18 has been the question of how—or when— users can be certain that the mandated devices will be able to electronically transfer data files of records of duty status for review by law enforcement officials who use portable computers.

The rule requires that ELDs must be able to transmit hours-of-service information to portable computers via several methods (wireless web/email, USB2.0, and/or Bluetooth). ELBs must also provide either an on-screen display of the driver’s sequence of duty status entries or a printout of the same.

John Seidl, transportation consultant with Integrated Risk Solutions and a former Wisconsin state trooper and FMCSA investigator, told HDT that FMSCA has “just come out with an ‘ELD File Validator’” on its ELD-specific website 

The agency states online that ELD suppliers can use the new tool to “ensure their ELD output file conforms to the technical specifications in the ELD rule.” However, FMCSA notes that using the File Validator is “not a mandatory step of the self-certification process [for suppliers]” but it will make the process “go as smoothly as possible.” 

Seidl, though, sees another use for the tool: “When selecting a device, motor carriers should request a data file now from their ELD supplier and do their own test to ensure ELD compliance. It’s a great way to verify if a vendor that has already self-certified has a compliant data file to transfer, per the ELD rule. If the data file does not work, do you really have an ELD?”

He adds that those vendors that still have not self-certified may be able to provide the data file at this point— but “you, the customer, have to ask them.”

Also of interest is that elsewhere on the site, FMCSA now states that it will be further “enhancing the [ELD] registration process for suppliers. The agency says that “coming soon” will be these enhancements: FMCSA’s public key; FMCSA’s email address for email submissions; WSDL/XSD for Web Services submission; Interface Control Document and Developer’s Guide; and Data Transfer test environments. 

Beyond testing for data transfers, the whole picture of what device registration is meant to accomplish remains cloudy even at this late date. Consider that Avery Vise, president of compliance-support firm TransComply, told HDT that while “carriers must use an ELD on the list of self-certified devices, doing so doesn't provide that much comfort.

“FMCSA is not routinely verifying that these devices are compliant and the agency -- by its own admission -- is not revoking the registration of any devices until after the December 18 compliance date. Moreover, if a registered ELD ultimately is found to be non-compliant, motor carriers using it will have just eight days to replace it."

Vise added that FMCSA “does suggest it will ‘work with affected motor carriers to establish a reasonable timeframe’ for replacing non-compliant ELDs in the case of a ‘widespread issue.’ But that's a fairly vague standard.”

Noting that most of the largest suppliers of electronic logs have yet to register any ELDs with FMCSA, Vise recommended that “carriers consider installing AOBRDs [automatic onboard recording devices] that could be upgraded to ELD standards without replacing hardware.

"Also," he continued, "because carriers are incurring some risk in the case of non-compliance, they should seek language in ELD vendor contracts that provide damages in the event FMCSA revokes registration. If a vendor is unwilling to even consider such language that could be a red flag-- especially in the case of vendors that don't have an established reputation.”

Tom Reader, director of marketing – ELDs, Forms, & Services for J. J. Keller & Associates, which at thsi point has several ELDs registered with FMCSA, told HDT that while the company “continues to have regulatory clarification questions for FMCSA, we have confidence in our interpretation of the regulations as they stand, which is why we've self-certifed to be on the [agency's] list."

Related: 14 Things You Need to Know Before ELDs Become Mandatory