If knowledge is power, then electronic logging devices could be the most powerful device on the truck. Sure, the device at its most basic is responsible only for monitoring hours of service, but the potential of networking and integrating data is impossible to ignore.

Why settle for simple electronic logging when it can serve as a total fleet management solution in a box?

A friend of mine drives for a 10-truck floral distribution company and makes regular runs from Ontario’s Niagara region to Chicago, Michigan, and western New Jersey. The picture he paints of his distribution manager would be amusing if it were not (most likely) true. The manager must be a fellow who grew up trucking in the ’60s, and still listens to eight-track tapes of Red Sovine and Dave Dudley. The routes are badly planned, trucks are frequently diverted en route, the vehicles are always breaking down, and all communication with drivers is done over the telephone. And he doesn’t believe in ELDs. My friend says his boss will wait until the last possible moment to equip his fleet – and then only because he must.

Too bad. He’s missing out on the predictive analytics that can be channeled through the device to deliver maintenance alerts that could forestall or outright prevent all those breakdowns. The manager is not even looking at the routing and scheduling potential, because he thinks drivers will no longer be able to complete their routes within the confines of legal hours of service, my friend suggests.

“While your ELD and telematic solution may not be a routing application per se, there’s probably some routing features and functionality in there,” says Robin Kinsey, a training specialist with Geotab. “You can optimize the route from the start and then compare arrival and dwell times to see where the delays are taking place. You can compare planned routes with the route taken to see if the driver is running unauthorized and unproductive miles. Our market research has shown that better planning and tracking can improve productivity by as much as 12%.”

Fleets report that drivers are now more productive because their time can be better managed, says Jean-Sébastien Bouchard, vice president – sales and marketing at Isaac Instruments. “Knowing available hours makes dispatchers aware of driver availability so they can be dispatched on appropriate loads. Because managers can plan better, they can optimize how many miles that driver can do in a month.”

That’s really just the tip of the iceberg, and it will also help gain driver acceptance through increased miles or reduced delays.

Speaking to fleets, especially smaller ones that will only grudgingly accept the ELD mandate slated to kick in on December 17, 2017, Bouchard urges them to think of the ELD as a portal through which many channels of data can be gathered, sorted, and used to the fleet’s advantage.

ELDs are connected to the electronic control module, which opens doors for the safety program and the fuel efficiency program through real-time monitoring, he says. “With that information you can coach the driver to be safer, drive better to save fuel, reduce idling, reduce aggressive driving, etc. You can’t improve what you can’t see, and an ELD portal can open all those windows to you.”

Speaking of windows, with so many onboard systems now reporting – from the original equipment manufacturer’s onboard telematic system, to an aftermarket tire pressure monitoring system, to an electronic driver vehicle inspection report – the right system can channel all that information to the appropriate desk, or it can be scaled so that everything is available in a tabbed browser.

“Our mission is to integrate all that data through a single portal,” Bouchard says. “It won’t matter what kind of truck or what equipment. You don’t want to open one dashboard for safety and another for fuel economy, and third for maintenance alerts or violations. You will also be able to compare all that data [on] a single screen, which ties everything together.”

Saving real dollars

That may sound great, but when you put some dollars and cents to it, the argument for integrating certain existing systems into an ELD platform become very compelling. Brad Jacobs, director - strategic planning at Merchants Fleet Management in Hooksett, New Hampshire, provides some concrete examples of savings through actionable telematic ELD reports:

  • Geofencing saved a 500-truck fleet about 80,000 kilometers in a single quarter, generating savings of $35,000 in fuel alone. Additional savings accrued from lower maintenance, reduced taxable mileage, and driver hours saved.
  • Real-time maintenance alerts helped a 600-truck medical supply fleet reduce maintenance costs 10%, equating to nearly $185,000 in annual savings.
  • Real-time truck speed alerts at one 250-truck fleet helped reduce speeding incidents 300% in the month the system went live.
  • A 300-unit fleet of utility trucks cut fuel costs an estimated $40,000 by eliminating unnecessary idling over a six-month period.

“With a telematic system, you have the benefit of hard data on various parameters, like idling and hard braking,” Jacobs says. “But with the ELD you also have driver information sitting on top of that. There are over 100 different data points being input by the driver, and that provides fleet managers with a lot more information to act upon during the course of the day.”

If you’re thinking that grappling with all that data would be like drinking from a fire hose, you’re right. Managing it successfully depends on how well the system converts raw data into meaningful information from which the fleet can make better decisions.

“Integration also means getting the data into the right person’s hands,” notes Bouchard. “Fleets have access to the information, but they often do nothing with it. It’s stuck in the cloud, it’s on a browser, I have to enter all kinds of passwords ... and then I have to start digging for the information. The system has to be able to push the right data to the right person. It’s all about business intelligence that you can pull together (to) make decisions.”

At the end of the day, the humble ELD can only track driver hours. It can provide warnings on available hours, but will not shut down the truck. When fleets like the one my friend works for are confronted with the reality that today’s “typical trip” won’t work under the black-and-white timekeeping on an ELD, someone is going to have to make a decision on how to work around the problem. Shorten the route, speak to the customers about delays, keep the drivers on the ball and off the scenic routes. Without a tool to prove the case, fleet managers can only guess at a solution.

According to Geotab’s Kinsey, in 2015 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration closed 4,320 enforcement cases against motor carriers, resulting in more than $34 million in fines. She says hours of service accounted for one in four of those cases, and more than a third of the fines.

“It’s largely because drivers don’t know the rules,” she says. “They don’t log properly and they’re caught in an audit. It takes a huge amount of oversight to keep a fleet of drivers on track, but an ELD and a management system can do it automatically.”

Big fleets have been using fleet management systems for years, and are becoming even more sophisticated. Small fleets hoping to compete no longer have the option of guessing how many hours their drivers have left, or how many volts are left in the batteries. A no-start keeps a truck just as still as an out-of-service order. There’s more to many ELDs than meets the eye, and they are not always bad for business.

Who owns the data?

If you’re worried about the picture all this data could paint about your fleet, rest easy. More or less. The consensus is that you own the data and are free to share it with whoever you like, or not – but some of it can also be used against you.

“There is a lot of information coming off of trucks, and it can all be used for different purposes,” notes Fred Andersky, director of government and industry affairs at Bendix Commercial Vehicle Systems. “Records that show bad driver behavior, for example, can be used for training purposes, but they have limited application in an accident investigation. Systems like our (collision mitigation technology) were not designed for that purpose.”

That’s not going to stop a plaintiff’s attorney from possibly trying to subpoena those records or stop insurance companies from asking for a closer look. And enforcement teams consider some of the records to be “supporting documentation” that can be used in different proceedings.

Manufacturers and technology suppliers can and usually do collect some data, usually anonymously, for development purposes or for fleet monitoring as part of a support agreement, but there’s only so much they can see.

Uri Tamir, director of strategic initiatives for Mobileye Vision Technologies, likens the question of data ownership to using a smartphone. “When you turn it on for the first time, you have to accept the terms and conditions of the agreement,” he says. “The question of outright ownership of the data is complex. Fleets may have a right of refusal in an agreement, but other parties are certainly going to want to share some of the data your trucks produce.”

This article by the staff of award-winning Canadian publication Today's Trucking appears here via a cooperative editorial-sharing agreement between HDT and TT.

About the author
Jim Park

Jim Park

Equipment Editor

A truck driver and owner-operator for 20 years before becoming a trucking journalist, Jim Park maintains his commercial driver’s license and brings a real-world perspective to Test Drives, as well as to features about equipment spec’ing and trends, maintenance and drivers. His On the Spot videos bring a new dimension to his trucking reporting. And he's the primary host of the HDT Talks Trucking videocast/podcast.

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