If you've been taking advantage of the grandfather clause built into the electronic logging device mandate and running automatic onboard recording devices, known as AOBRDs, you've got less than six months left to put in place devices compliant with the ELD mandate. The deadline is Dec. 16, 2019. We spoke with Joe DeLorenzo, director of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance, to get an update on how the changeover to ELDs is going and some advice for both truck drivers and motor carriers dealing with the transition.
(This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
HDT: It’s the first of July and the deadline is less than six months away. What are you telling fleets that haven’t changed over from grandfathered AOBRDs to ELDs?
DeLorenzo: My number-one piece of advice now is, if you haven’t done it yet, now is a really good time to be talking to your provider if you haven’t made the changeover. In some cases I think carriers will find it’s a fairly simple change, and they need to know now whether they need to make a hardware change or if it’s going to affect their back office systems. We’re six months away and we want folks to get going on it.
HDT: I get the feeling that many fleets, especially those who know it’s just a software change, are waiting till the last minute to flip the switch. Is that a bad idea?
DeLorenzo: Even if it's just a software update, I still think they should be testing some of their devices to know what’s going to happen. We all know with any kind of software change there can be unanticipated effects. Even if their providers are telling them or they know it's just a software update, it’s still not a good reason to wait until the last minute. I usually ask those fleets why they’re waiting, and a little bit of it is kind of a fear of the unknown – and that doesn’t get better over time.
HDT: Aren’t there operational issues beyond just the device that differ between ELDs and AOBRDs?
DeLorenzo: The hours of service [rules], as we’ve talked about, are still the hours of service, so that should be the same. But there are things they’re doing to want to know that are different – for instance, the data transfer process. That’s one of those new items. As carriers use it, I think they’re finding they’ll be pretty happy with it, because it’s going to speed the inspection process.
The second thing I think not all folks are doing with AOBRDs is making sure they’re entering notations. That’s one of the important features for ELDs for times when things don’t go right – making sure they’re in the habit of making those manual notations and annotations into the ELD. The AOBRDs don’t all have that capability.
HDT: What would be an example of a time when annotations are important?
DeLorenzo: When they run into a situation where they’re going to be operating [in] personal conveyance. We’ve talked in the past about how drivers can use personal conveyance [if] they run out of hours at a shipper location and they’re looking for parking. When there’s something that’s out of the ordinary, like personal conveyance, adverse driving conditions, or something just goes wrong, I always recommend to drivers that they make that annotation in there. Those annotations go over to the roadside officer during the inspection process and it’ll be right there. Even if they ended up over hours, if they say, ‘I thought I had enough time, I got caught up in traffic,’ anything they want someone to see that’s reviewing their log, the ELD gives them the opportunity to do that.
HDT: Do you have any feel for how many fleets are still using AOBRDs vs. those that are using ELDs?
DeLorenzo: It’s a little bit hard for me to tell. Kind of anecdotally, adoptions do seem to be increasing, at least little by little; if we use the numbers of data transfers as a proxy for devices out there. I’m not sure that’s 100% of a good proxy because they also could come to folks just getting more comfortable with the technology, but also in our findings during [compliance] investigations, it seems that things are starting to move, although probably not as fast as people would like.
HDT: At one time, we heard, fleets with e-logs were largely waved on through when it came to inspections of driver logs. Now that most truckers must have either AOBRDs or ELDs, that’s no longer the case. What are some of the common things drivers are getting cited for?
DeLorenzo: Honestly, the things drivers are getting cited for are the most obvious things everyone needs to be aware of. Being able to have the documentation that’s required, knowing where the manual is, whether it’s electronic or on paper, the data transfer instruction sheet, a lot of those simple things are tripping folks up. I tell people that those are indicators of something that’s really important and, because of the way this grandfather period has gone, my number-one piece of advice is to make sure they know whether they are using an ELD or AOBRD. For the next six months, that’s going to be the number-one question. And a lot of drivers cited for not having the right kind of documentation and things along those lines.
HDT: What other challenges are we seeing during roadside inspections, beyond what kind of device they have and the documentation issue you mentioned?
DeLorenzo: A very close number two is effecting the data transfer. If the driver can’t do it and do it easily, it’s adding a lot of time onto that inspection. When they have to have this conversation, 'Do you have an ELD or an AOBRD?' 'I’m not sure.' Then they figure out it’s an ELD but they don’t know how to do the data transfer, that's a challenge. That driver training, letting the drivers know what they have and knowing how to do that data transfer, is what will help folks get through that process as quickly and as easily as possible.
HDT: What are some of the most frequently asked questions you get about ELD enforcement?
DeLorenzo: We still get the question a lot of, ‘What happens if I’m one minute over? Am I going to get cited?’ And I do point out that even in the violation criteria there’s a different violation if you’re 15 minutes over that’s less serious. Things along those lines. Reminding people that everybody’s reasonable in this process. Everybody’s trying to work together and try to get through this and have compliancy maximized.
A lot of the questions we’re getting now from carriers are more sophisticated, about how they’re handling the data and working through hours of service issues and managing things on the back end, which to me is a good sign that we’ve moved away from the basic stuff. We’re normalizing this as part of our operation, and looking at our policies of driver hours and yard moves and personal conveyance and those kind of things. The process is getting ingrained in day-to-day operations.
HDT: What are some of those back-end things fleets need to think about?
DeLorenzo: There is going to be a different process. A good example is the issue of undefined miles. The other piece of advice I give to drivers and carriers: It may seem simple, but remembering to log off and log on is one of the most important things you can do as part of getting into the habit of using this electronic device, so you don’t accumulate those uncredited miles. Those now go back to the office, and they have to figure out how to deal with them, and some may come back to the driver. Building into your processes ways to avoid undefined miles is something carriers didn’t have to do before. If they do it now it will save them a lot of trouble. When fleets ask me, ‘How do I deal with undefined miles?’ my first piece of advice is try to figure out ways to not get unassigned miles in the first place. A lot of carriers have taken that to heart and looked at systems and driver training programs and set up reminders in those systems. It’s those kind of back-end processes that will be new and different for folks going from AOBRD to ELD.
HDT: What do fleets need to know to be ready for audits under ELDs that’s different from AOBRDs?
DeLorenzo: I think a couple of things that come to mind. One is the process is going to be a little different. With data transfer they may get contacted before someone shows up and asked for the data transfer ahead of time to minimize some of our time on site. They also need to be aware of things like the types of reports they’re going to get asked for like undefined mile reports in terms of supporting documentation. They need to make sure they can understand their back end so when an investigator questions them about them, that process goes a little easier. What will be helpful, in the end, is if it still comes down to some of the basics about hours of service violations and falsifications and things like that. But the process surrounding that will be a little different. General familiarity with their specific system and how it works and how to get those reports they’re asked for.
HDT: And what about personal conveyance? Is that still a source of confusion since the agency published new guidance last year?
DeLorenzo: I do think from my perspective, the questions are getting a little more sophisticated and we’re over some of the basics. My advice is to really keep it simple and focus on why the moves are taking place. Everybody gets caught up into a lot of these crazy scenarios, and really I just ask the driver and the carrier to focus on why is that move being made. Ask yourself, is this move really a personal move, not for business purposes, and if they start there usually they’ll get to the right answer. For the drivers, ask, ‘I’m moving my commercial motor vehicle, why am I moving it, for my purposes or the purposes of the business/company?’
And for the carriers, I like to remind them, how they handle personal conveyance is up to them. While not a requirement of the rule, it’s always good to have that written down as policy, for your drivers and for us, so we can understand it if someone has to come in and take a look at it.
HDT: Anything else you’d like to get the message out about ELDs?
DeLorenzo: I like to remind people that we have a ton of information, and we’re always adding new stuff to the website at www.eld.fmcsa.dot.gov. We’re still taking questions into the ELD mailbox. If you have questions, work with us, work with your provider to try to get those answers.