A deadline is only as flexible as its breaking point. Among the least flexible are compliance dates for government regulations. And when you have a fixed date for a final rule that no one in a federal agency or in Congress has the desire to slacken even a tad at the 11th hour, you have a deadline so tight that violating it will snap back at you but good.
That’s how it is with the final compliance date set for the electronic logging device mandate. Dec. 16, 2019 — less than four months away — is the last day you’ll be able to take advantage of the grandfather clause that let carriers using automatic onboard recording devices hold off switching to fully compliant electronic logging devices for two years.
Come Dec. 17, amidst the freight-happy holiday shopping season, every carrier operating in the U.S. that is not exempt from keeping driver logs will have to have a functioning ELD onboard its trucks, per the final rule issued in late 2017 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
The agency’s intention to ease the changeover burden with the two-year grandfathering was most certainly not to encourage waiting until the last minute to comply. On the other hand, one’s definition of “last minute” can vary widely by such factors as general ignorance, risk tolerance, over confidence, and fear of change.
“My number one piece of advice today [July 1] is now is a really good time to be talking to your [electronic log] provider if you haven’t made the changeover,” says Joe DeLorenzo, director of the FMCSA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance.
David Heller, vice president of government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association, agrees it’s high time to act. “My advice is to start now to plan the transition to ELDs and to allow for hiccups. If you are not ready by Dec. 17, enforcement officers will be less than happy with you.”
By the numbers
Putting some numbers to that situation is Adam Bruttell, vice president of sales and marketing (North America) for MiX Telematics. “We did a survey with Bobit Business Media [publisher of HDT] in 2018 that found one in three fleets were not yet ELD-compliant. When we repeated the survey in the spring of 2019, that number was down to one in eight — so we’re getting there.
“We’ve seen that the larger fleets — 500-plus vehicles — are for the most part done,” he continues. “It’s primarily the smaller fleets that haven’t yet complied. A lot of them struggle with whether to go with a bare-bones, compliance-only tool or something full-featured that requires a larger upfront investment but has the potential to pay for itself over time.”
Fred Fakkema, vice president of compliance for Zonar Systems and a retired captain of the Washington State Patrol, says that “the most important thing is to have a plan. The main reason being that some AOBRDs are ELD-ready — but there are others that are not.”
“Waiting [to transition] could potentially result in a lack of driver training/acceptance and reporting glitches as well as last-minute capital expenditures if required to upgrade devices,” says Ravi Kodavarti, Rand McNally’s director of product management. “There also could be potential vendor hardware or cable shortages if many fleets wait until the last minute.”
Sid Nair, senior director of transport and compliance at Teletrac Navman, says that for some fleets, “the delayed transition could simply be the result of confusion about the underlying technology, where fleets may have questions about what the transition requires them to do, like fully transition all hardware in a fleet vs. only a few vehicles.”
J.J. Keller recommends that carriers finalize their implementation and transition plan no later than the July-August timeframe, so if you’re still not there, time’s running out. “This allows three to four months to get fully implemented and more importantly, to get your drivers trained,” says Mark Schedler, senior transport editor for J.J. Keller. “Ample time is especially critical for larger carriers that have multiple terminals.”
He warns that even smaller carriers may experience issues if they choose to wait until November or December. “It’s a big change, and ELD providers will be providing high volumes of customer support as the deadline approaches. [When the mandate started in 2017], the technical support departments at ELD vendors inadvertently became many carriers’ ELD training departments, meaning call wait times were longer than expected. It would be wise to get ahead of the rush.”
No waiting game
“The biggest thing I’m hearing from both the [ELD] manufacturers and enforcement is a lot of the fleets are waiting, and they’re still running AOBRDs, and that’s a really bad idea,” says Kerri Wirachowsky, director of roadside inspection program for the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. “They need to transition now … [at some fleets] drivers have been trained on AOBRDs, and companies just got them there, and they’re hesitant to flip over because they’re having to train drivers again on file transfer and other things. But waiting till the last minute isn’t going to do them any good. As of [Dec. 17], inspectors are going to expect drivers to know how to use the ELD — and if they only transition the week before, they’re not going to know it well.”
Doug Schrier, vice president of product and innovation for Transflo, reiterates, “You cannot wait to the last minute. That’s basic change management. You won’t want to mess around with the transition in the fourth quarter. That’s when many carriers can make money [with holiday freight]. You don’t want disruption then.”
He advises, too, that, “There’s also the sunset of the 3G [mobile-network] cell band to consider,” which is expected to be done by 2022, according to AT&T. “That will affect the use of some older [electronic log] units by early next year.” In other words, if you are not careful, you could end up transitioning to ELDs twice in relatively short order.
According to Tom Cuthbertson, Omnitracs’ vice president of regulatory compliance, who tackled this topic during a recent HDT webinar, fleets should “plan to be migrated to ELDs prior to October.” As he sees it, you don’t want to “get into a situation where there’s not enough resources to assist you or help you plan to migrate. And keep in mind there’s a lot of seasonality for some carriers…. when we get into that heavy retail season, you might not have the right resources as a carrier to help you migrate, and the availability of drivers to train them may be difficult.”
And there will be a lot of training to do, Cuthbertson says. “Who’s going to be affected with training? It’s going to be everyone at the carrier. And if you’re a small carrier, everybody wears multiple hats, and you may have to have different disciplines and understandings of ELD and how that affects different people. But no matter what size you are, everybody needs to have some kind of participation in this migration.”
“Driver buy-in is a big pain point,” says MiX Telematics’ Bruttell, “and it’s something that fleets should start on well in advance of the transition. It’s important for drivers to understand that ELDs are primarily for their own safety — for tracking hours of service so that overworked and exhausted drivers aren’t on the road.
“Another pain point can be integration with existing systems, such as your routing or payroll systems,” he continues. “Vendors that have open APIs and documented experience integrating with the software you already have in house are typically the best choice. And lastly, we hear from fleets in some industries like oil and gas that picked vendors without experience in their space and so aren’t familiar with special rulesets they need to comply with. That can cause big headaches for a fleet. So, look for a vendor with experience in your industry if you have a lot of industry-specific rules to follow.”
Drivers need to understand the basic differences between running with an AOBRD vs. an ELD, explains Zonar's Fakkema. “With an ELD, the driver is more involved, while the AOBRD has more automatic functions. The biggest difference, though, is the driver has to interact with the [ELD] device at roadside. The driver has to be able to perform a data transfer for enforcement officers. You have to take the time to train drivers on that.”
“Mock inspections at the truck for drivers to reinforce their actions during a roadside inspection [see story on page 14], including the data transfer process, would be invaluable to reduce stress and increase readiness,” advises J.J. Keller’s Schedler. “A 15-minute inspection should be sufficient for most drivers to do the basics of what an officer would request and allow some time for questions and answers.” It needs to be a hands-on experience. “Just using [a training] video with a new system will not be sufficient for most drivers.”
Teletrac Navman’s Nair agrees that drivers are the most important group to train on ELD systems. “One of the biggest learning curves for drivers is identifying driving events and knowing when and how to manage them,” he says. Under ELD rules, once the truck reaches 5 mph, it’s automatically recorded as a driving event. “Anyone who might drive a vehicle, including a driver or technician, needs a unique login, and someone who doesn’t use their unique login could cause unidentified driving time to be charged to the next driver.”
Drivers also need to know what to do if there’s an ELD malfunction out on the road, says Zonar’s Fakkema. “Will they know if it is a data or a device issue? [FMCSA] allows eight days to handle those, so the carrier needs a policy in place to address that. And since drivers get to approve any edits of ELD data, there should be policies as well for how personal conveyance and yard moves are handled.”
While driver training may be most vital, fleet managers need training, too, notes MiX Telematics’ Brutell. “We’ve found that while drivers do best with in-person, on-site training — generally a one-day session — managers often prefer web-based training, which can be done at their leisure over the course of a few weeks.
“Full-featured ELD solutions come with a lot of reports that can be used throughout the organization, reports on utilization, fuel economy, safety and the like,” he continues. “So in some cases, fleets are bringing their health and safety and finance staff into ELD training. Often, when people in other departments see what’s possible with ELD data, they get excited. ELDs aren’t just for HOS compliance [see story on page 24]. They can deliver data and analysis that help improve safety and efficiency while reducing costs. The effects can cascade through the entire organization.”
Back up the back office
Reza Hemmati, vice president of product management for Spireon, says it’s important that the administrative staff knows how to properly set up driver accounts with necessary information, such as names and DOT numbers. “Discuss potential ELD malfunctions that might occur and ensure your back-office team knows what to do when malfunctions are reported by drivers. You should also train staff on how to maintain supporting documents and records in the event of an FMSCA audit.”
He points out that inspectors can collect supporting documents to verify the accuracy of driver RODs and HOS rules compliance. Per the FMCSA guidelines, motor carriers must retain a maximum of eight supporting documents for every 24-hour period a driver is on duty. Motor carriers must also retain RODS and supporting documents for six months as well as a backup copy of the data on a separate device.
J.J. Keller’s Schedler contends that “insufficient training of the carrier’s back office is an even greater risk than insufficient training of drivers, due to daily processing of unassigned drive time, editing process changes, malfunction reporting and logging changes, and generally not being able to help the drivers if the back office isn’t comfortable with the differences between AOBRD and ELD systems.”
He also points out that if shop technicians have not had time to be trained, there is the risk of ELDs remaining in malfunctioning status. “Mechanics will need to have troubleshooting knowledge that is above the complexity of AOBRDs, with additional malfunction codes and potential issues with ‘flashed’ or reset electronic control module parameters.”
Teletrac Navman’s Nair says that “with AOBRDs, recorded events can be changed or edited by back-office staff or drivers, but with ELDs, logged events can’t be adjusted, and drivers have the final say. However, in some cases, drivers and managers can leave annotations or notes instead of editing logs to mark things such as technical difficulties or mistakes in logging.”
Omnitracs’ Cuthbertson makes a salient point about the back office. “Remember, this whole ELD mandate was written so that the log is in control of the driver. The driver has the final say on how that log is being maintained, because that driver has the primary responsibility for that log. With that, edits by administrators will be going to that driver in a pending state. They will not be automatically updating the log for the driver because the back office said, ‘Make a change.’ That driver has to look at that edit and accept it, and if they reject it, there’s an annotation that has to happen of why it was rejected.”
And he recommends that when it comes to fleets implementing specific policies around ELD use, to “maybe talk to your legal counsel to make sure how you would implement that policy. There could be issues surrounding the edit process and rejected edits — maybe that edit was correct for that driver but they keep rejecting it. I think you need to have a policy for that — but if you put a policy in, you have to be consistent in policy enforcement and policy practice.”
In this transition, little things can matter a lot. “When you’re migrating over to the ELD, make sure you have the driver’s name correct and the CDL number and the state issuance of the CDL,” Cuthbertson notes. “Those are going to be required in the header information on any log day that’s recorded by an ELD. If they’re not there, those could potentially be a form and manner violation.”
Transflo’s Schier points out the common-sense fact that while there are hundreds of ELDs listed on the FMCSA website as compliant, “they don’t all have the same level of functionality. Also, consider that vendor partners will differ, too. You want [a company] you can trust with a strong financial background that won’t disappear overnight.” Schrier says to quiz vendors on such telltale signs as how many units have they deployed. “You want to know that they are a scalable business” that can survive the rigors of the marketplace.
“Above all, the thing with ELDs,” says Zonar’s Fakkema, “is that once a vehicle moves, you have to account for it. There’s no fudge room at all. Keep in mind the hours-of-service rules did not change, and there’s no flexibility with an ELD.”