The Pros and Cons of ELDs

by Pride Transport | Jan 29, 2020

 

In December of 2015, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) released the text of a rule that requires trucks to implement Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs). In December of 2017, the deadline for all trucks to comply was hit. Since then there have been arguments both pro and con for these devices.

Do they make driving safer? Will they take away huge chunks of driver profits? Are they just devices for the government to spy on drivers and track their every move? Lots of questions, lots of fears and also, a lot of myths trumping facts.

Let’s talk ELDs, their pros and cons, the safety, the myth and what drivers think, should know and can just reject.

 

What is the Mandate

The ELD mandate requires that trucks use a DOT (Department of Transportation) approved device that is hard-wired to the vehicle’s engine in order to log the driver’s Record of Duty (ROD) status. This is to ensure that truck drivers are complying with Hours of Service (HOS) requirements.

The rules apply to almost everyone in the trucking business with some exceptions. The ELD mandate was enacted primarily for safety. The DOT was looking to cut down on drowsy driving which is a major cause of accidents and even deaths on highways.

The mandate also does away with paper logs. Paper logbooks are not always accurate because there is the possibility of error or miscalculation by truck drivers, and coercion pressures from employers to manipulate hours.

The mandate really does center around HOS and driver safety.

 

The Exceptions

As stated there a few, scant few, exceptions to the mandate. And, it should be noted, even those exceptions have exceptions. I mean, c’mon, it’s the government so, there has to be some inherent weirdness, right? Some exceptions:

  • Those who use paper Records of Duty for no more than 8 days out of every 30-day period (this 8-day period must be over a single 30-day period and doesn’t have to be in the same month. Like May 15 -June 15).

  • Those who conduct driveaway-towaway operations where the vehicle being driven is the commodity being delivered.

  • Those whose vehicles were manufactured before 2000.

The FMCSA makes it abundantly clear that if the truck is a rental or a leased vehicle there are no exemptions if the driver or the fleet is required to record Hours of Service (HOS).

If the fleet is exempt from the requirements of FMCSA regulations part 395.8, then it is likely exempt from the ELD mandate.

 

As Promised: Exceptions to the Exceptions

The FMCSA is clear that vehicles older than model year 2000 are exempt from having to be equipped with an ELD - the driver will have to keep paper logs or use and AOBRD (Automatic On-Board Recording Device). However, because this is a government mandate, it’s not ever going to be clear cut. What good would that be, right? So here are the exceptions to the exceptions. Keep in mind these are exceptions to their own rules.

  • A vehicle that has a glider kit that is newer than the year 2000, but the vehicle model year is older than 2000.

  • If the engine does not support an Engine Control Module (ECM), the fleet must use an ELD that does not rely on ECM connectivity.

  • The FMCSA does allow a driver to use an ELD on a commercial vehicle that is older than model-year 2000. However, the ELD must comply with the technical specifications of the rule and it may use alternative sources to obtain or estimate the required vehicle parameters.

Now let’s get down to the nitty and the gritty.

 

The Pros of ELDs

Even before the mandate, many truck drivers were already abandoning traditional paper logs for ELDs due to the safety advantages they offer.

By keeping track of driver activities it’s believed that fatigue and mistakes can be reduced. This is very important when you realize some startling facts. According to the National Highway Safety Administration (NHSA), drowsy driving accounted for 72,000 accidents, 44,000 injuries and 800 deaths in 2013.

Recent new findings show that those estimates are actually low. The NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) believes that 6,000 fatal crashes per year can be attributed to drowsy driving. Commercial drivers are among those most likely to fall asleep behind the wheel.

The data gathered from ELDs can be a valuable management tool. The information can be used to help trucking companies improve productivity and better handle scheduling issues.

ELDs can also reduce paperwork, which aids in helping the environment and saves time.

 

Words from the truck drivers

While many drivers don’t agree 100% with the mandate, they do say that they’re transitioning easily to the ELDs. 

The biggest concern that’s being voiced by a majority of truck drivers is the fear of losing money. Some say a driver will make 25% to 45% less using ELDs as opposed to paper logs. However, there are drivers that argue if you’re running legal on paper, you’re running legal on the ELD so there should be no change to profits.

Another argument that drivers put forth is the time and energy it will take to learn how to use the ELDs. As a counter to this argument, drivers say that learning to use the ELD is no different than learning how to operate under the new HOS rules, that went into effect back in 2004. They say a little dedication and it’s an easy learn.

 

5 Driver Benefits of ELDs

Despite a general distrust of the new, drivers are getting on board with the new ELD mandate and some even say it’s a good situation. Here are five positive things drivers are saying about the ELD mandate.

1. Potential for more revenue. They are a time saver and that equates to better earning potential. Fewer and faster inspections, as well as reduced paperwork, adds up to 20 hours saved each year. Those are hours that can be spent driving.

 

2. Saving some money. Paper logs are the burden of the driver. Buying logs, having drivers file and submit records and performing clerical tasks all cost the driver time and money. An ELD can save the driver on much of the costs of paper logs. The FNCSA estimates the annual paperwork savings for a truck driver is $705 per year.

Here’s the breakdown on that figure:

Eliminating paper logs   $42

Driver submitting ROD  $56

Clerk filing ROD           $120

Driver filing ROD          $487

Total                            $705

 

3. New Efficiency. Using an ELD helps drivers better plan their day. With the ELDs hours of service, GPS and alert features, drivers know where and when the best times and places are to take breaks and stop for the day. Insights from speeding and engine idling reports could lead to improved efficiency. It’s estimated that drivers burn 1,500 gallons of diesel a year just idling.

 

4. Improve Safety. Trucks with ELDs have 11.7% fewer total crashes and 5.1% fewer preventable crashes. With real-time ELD mapping. Roadside assistance is also faster.

 

5. Enhanced quality of life. ELDs reduce tedious activities like DVIRs (Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports) and IFTA (International Fuel Tax Agreement) reporting, including the phone calls just to check-in. They may also reduce IFTA audit risks.

ELDs can also lead to more meaningful coaching, decrease driving while fatigued and accurate pay information. These all enhance quality of life and help with reducing driver turnover. A summary shows that drivers with ELDs could put nearly $100-$300 in their pockets each month.

 

The Cons of ELDs

There is a fear that ELDS can present a significant cost for both independent drivers and small trucking companies. Yes, they are a pricey piece of technology, however, the technology has evolved so much in the two decades since they were introduced, that the cost has changed.

At the onset, ELDs could cost thousands of dollars for a single device. However, according to the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), an estimate of modern ELDs show that today’s ELDs will only cost, on average, $500 per truck, per year.

There is also a fear that a decrease in driving hours will hurt productivity.

Another driver concern is that ELDs can lead to discomfort and a lack of safety for drivers. Truck drivers have said that they feel they have no choice but to drive in traffic, adverse weather conditions or while fatigued because they cannot take a nap -the clock is always ticking away.

These concerns may be valid. There is, currently, a serious shortage of qualified commercial drivers in many areas of the industry. If the existing drivers are held to an extremely strict regulation, which is how the ELD Mandate is often perceived, the industry as a whole could suffer.

 

Getting Granular, 3 Main Cons of ELDS

Polls were taken by the ATRI and the results give us the three main concerns with ELDs that drivers express again and again.

1. The dehumanization of a very human industry. Drivers are paid by the mile, the ELD mandate regulates hours. There is a stress point here, the law constrains a driver’s time but the job depends on distance. This means that drivers may become disincentivized from every other component of a job well done, except for clocking time. Drivers are now racing against the clock to finish a job as quickly as possible before they get fined. Drivers express the worry that they will be forced to take more risks and extend fewer courtesies to fellow motorists.

Drivers feel the ELDs are a one-size-fits-all decision about how drivers plan their own trips. This can cripple a driver who often has to make judgment calls based on traffic, weather conditions, rerouted shipments, and other variables.

 

2. They will hurt trucking and thus hurt everyone. A few years back a survey found that 71% of independent and owner-operated trucking companies said they would quit if ELD mandates went into effect. Experts in the industry say many experienced and over-60 drivers will use the mandate to switch industries or retire.

 

 

Trucking fleets will shrink. Those that remain on the road will be hindered in shipping goods on time. This is actually a frightening possibility when you consider that trucks deliver extremely important and time-sensitive goods like medication and hospital supplies.

 

3.The rule treats drivers like criminals. Many drivers see the swapping from pen and paper to an ELD is like swapping their free simple lives for one constantly being governed by a surveillance machine. Truck drivers are fiercely independent and having “Big Brother” looking over them every minute of their lives is not something they are happy about.

 

 

When you think about it, every man-made object that you touch has, at one point, been transported by a truck. We need them, we rely on them, perhaps they deserve a little privacy is the thought process here.

Law enforcement can view the ELDs in roadside inspections, traffic infractions, and compliance audits. Mandate apologists do their best to assure drivers that ELDs are NOT Big Brother but drivers aren’t 100% sure about that.

 

ELD Myths Busted

When anything new is introduced into an established market there are always those who will spread rumors or find the darkness in what could otherwise be a bright spot. The same has happened with ELDs. There are a lot of myths about what ELDS can and can’t do. What they will and won’t be used for. But there are a handful of myths that need to be busted when talking about ELDs.

ELDs will put owner/operators out of business

During the ELD mandate comment period this fear was brought up time and time again. The fear arose from:

  • Perceived prohibitive costs of ELDs

  • Potential loss of driving hours

  • Strict hours of service (HOS) regulations compliance.

Fact: Once most commercial truck drivers have adopted the ELD, they refuse to go back to logbooks. Many drivers find that using an ELD actually helped them gain more time on the road. E-logs can record duty status changes down to the nearest minute. Paper logs require drivers to round up to the nearest 15 minutes - which results in fewer miles posted.

 

ELDs are too expensive

When ELDs were first introduced 20 years ago, it’s true fleets paid up to $2,500 for a single device.

Fact: With today’s technological advances, ELD prices have dropped considerably. In 2019 and now in 2020, hardware is much less expensive. The FMCSA has estimated that the average annual cost of an ELD will be $495 per truck.

 

ELDs require truck drivers’ interaction on the road

Drivers worry that they will have to give constant attention to the ELD in order for it to function properly. This attention will divert their much-needed attention to the road.

Fact: This is simply not the case. A driver does need to log into a device, and it’s true that a status must be selected indicating off-duty or sleeper berth. However, there is no system today that can - or should-identify those tasks automatically.

When the truck is rolling, in motion an ELD recognizes the difference between driving and on-duty not driving, automatically updating the driver’s status.

Driver interaction while the truck is in motion is NEVER needed. A countdown timer with audible alerts is available. The alerts ensure drivers have enough time to reach a safe place to park before they reach their HOS limits

 

ELDs will automatically report HOS violations to law enforcement

Again this relates back to the fear of “Big Brother looming over a driver’s daily operations. The fear of privacy being disrupted and police having free reign over drive information.

Fact: And Eld is a replacement for a paper logbook. It does not automatically transmit data to inspectors or law enforcement agencies. And, it does not automatically trigger violations. And, it actually makes roadside inspections, when they do occur, go much faster.

 

It’s Big Brother watching

Again, truck drivers feel that they are under the stark white light of interrogation with the ELDs. Big Brother knows where they are every second of the day.

Fact: Only employees of the trucking company who are authorized to view ELD data are able to pinpoint a vehicle’s location. And, ELD regulation includes privacy provisions that should give drivers peace of mind. The DOT will not know a driver’s every move. It’s the same process as an audit of paper logs, except the ELDs save time and are more accurate.

 

ELDs can shut down your truck

The misconception is that because the ELD is hardwired to the engine, it can just shut the truck down when HOS limits have been met.

Fact: Where and when the truck may safely be stopped is absolutely in the capable hands of the driver. ELDs are designed to record data, that’s all, they do not take control of the truck.

 

ELDs don’t improve truck and driver safety

What’s the point, most drivers ask, the device isn’t making me or my truck any safer. Is it?

Fact: ELDs are able to let drivers and dispatchers know how much time they have left behind the wheel each day, which leads to smarter dispatch decisions that can keep drivers safer on the road.

The FMCSA recently released: “Evaluating the Potential Safety Benefits of Electronic Hours of Service Logging Devices Final Report” The report states that commercial drivers using e-logs have a significantly lower crash rate (11.7% reduction) and a significantly lower preventable crash rate (5.1% reduction) than trucks with no ELDs.

 

ELDs cut into tight profit margins

Some of the benefits of an ELD are not immediately recognized so, drivers naturally assume they are not helpful for earning or saving money.

Fact: An ELD can offer significant ROI especially in the area of improvements in fuel economy. Many drivers who use ELDs are able to identify driving behaviors that cut into their profits: idling, speeding, and hard braking. Knowing this information allows a driver to rectify the problems and save money.

 

Only big fleets are required to use and ELD

Drivers think that the size of the fleet dictates the use of ELDs.

Fact: The ELD mandate does not discriminate on fleet size, it doesn’t matter if you have one truck or 10,000 if you file a Record of Duty Status (ROD) you need an ELD.

 

My smartphone alone will meet the ELD standards

Because smartphone technology has advanced so much, truck drivers have assumed that a smartphone with a GPS is sufficient for the ELD mandate.

Fact: A GPS enabled smartphone cannot accurately track miles traveled. Only devices that have been certified and listed with the FMCSA will be considered compliant.

 

The trucking industry keeps this country moving and supplied and it has been in business for close to a century. It’s established and many drivers have been in the business for decades. It only makes sense when a new component is introduced to such a storied business, there is going to be some push back. 

But the rumors and the myths don’t actually present ELDs in the positive light that they inhabit. Safety, time-saving, accuracy are all by-products of the ELD mandate. Yes, it’s new, it will take time to get used to but, in the end, it’s going to make truck drivers and people who share the road with them safer.

 

 

 

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