The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is set to begin enforcing a rule that was published in December of 2015. That means truckers have had two full years in which to acquire ELDs and install them on their vehicles.
Many carriers, especially larger fleets with deeper pockets, have done just that. As of last month, however, a million truckers had yet to purchase an ELD, according to Trucks.com.
What’s more, the new rule appears to be generating some confusion as to precisely what it requires. Last June, a telephone survey by C.J. Driscoll & Associates found that only 40 percent of respondents had met the ELD requirement at that time. Of those who had yet to comply, 57 percent said they intended to do so in the fourth quarter. So if the survey is correct, we’re in the midst of a scramble to install ELDs. And a significant portion of truckers still aren’t taking adequate action.
The rule requires that commercial drivers use ELDs to document hours of service (HOS). It specifies performance and design standards for the devices. And it prohibits the “harassment” of drivers based on performance data derived from the technology. (Just what constitutes harassment, and whether drivers will have sufficient recourse to counter it, is another question entirely.)
Under the rule, truckers may use existing automatic onboard recording devices (AOBRDs) for the next two years. Paper logs and legacy logging software will no longer be sufficient to meet the mandate. As of December 16, 2019, they will be required to have ELDs installed in all of their vehicles. The devices must be self-certified and registered with FMCSA.
Industry attempts to delay initial implementation of the rule have been unsuccessful. But ELDs are far from the most onerous technological requirement that regulators could impose. So why have so many carriers been slow to adopt them?
One reason is the upfront cost of the device, says Mobeen Khan, assistant vice president of industrial internet of things solutions with AT&T. The price can range from around $80 to several hundred dollars, depending on the model and how ruggedized it is. (As with any developing technology, the price of the units has come down over the years.) Then the data must be run through a software application, transmitted to a network via the cloud, and displayed within an electronic logbook, either through a mobile phone or tablet. After that, there’s a monthly fee for use of the application and connection.
That’s not a huge financial burden for an individual truck. But for owners of large fleets, it adds up. The total cost per vehicle, figuring in equipment, training and integration of the app, could run around $1,000, says Khan.
At the outset, some companies were slow to comply because they were betting on a court ruling that would delay implementation. With those hopes dashed, at least some of the laggards have begun falling in line within the last 60 to 90 days, says Khan. An updated survey is likely to show a much higher rate of adoption as the deadline nears.
There are financial penalties for failure to comply, with the possibility of license revocation for serial offenders. The rule will be enforced at weigh stations and vehicle checkpoints, as well as through regular spot-checks, although Khan says the details of the enforcement program aren’t entirely clear.
The ELD adoption rate isn’t completely dependent on fleet size, Khan says, although larger operations are more sensitive to the negative publicity that ensues from violations and the loss of licenses. Small delivery vehicles that travel long distances across state lines are also likely to be among the ranks of the early compliers, he says.
Training on the devices doesn’t appear to constitute a major hurdle. Khan says it will be akin to learning how to use any new app. “The system does things itself,” he says. “Once you connect the device, data starts to flow.”
The impetus behind the FMCSA rule is the promotion of driver safety. Regulators want assurances that drivers are adhering to HOS limits, in terms of number of hours on the road and time off between shifts.
Ultimately, though, ELDs promise to have a much bigger impact on fleet safety and efficiency. The data isn’t just suitable for compliance, Khan says. It can give fleet managers crucial information about a vehicle’s route, number of stops, speed and braking habits. It can also be integrated with engine diagnostic codes to give operators data on when trucks need to be serviced. GPS technology supplies the vehicle’s location at any given moment, providing carriers with updates on driver performance as well as a tool to combat hijacking and theft.
Various types of monitoring technology for trucks have been on the market for a decade or more, although industry was slow to adopt them in the beginning. AT&T has seen a notable increase in use over the past 18 to 24 months, Khan says, and expects the trend toward more sophisticated in-cab systems to continue. Newer models come equipped with embedded connectivity, further reducing the cost and hassle of acquiring the systems. Moreover, the maturing of cloud technology has made it easier to tap into the network, and integrate fleet data with other business systems.
As for ELDs, overall penetration within fleets depends on the market segment. Khan estimates it at between 18 and 19 percent at the low end, rising to between 50 and 60 percent for the largest operators. The overall adoption rate as of this fall was between 30 and 35 percent, leaving a significant portion of the industry playing catch-up to the FMCSA rule.
As with so many initially burdensome requirements, the ELD will eventually be viewed as a net benefit for fleet managers. They’ll acquire an unprecedented degree of visibility over operations, making the investment well worth the time and trouble.
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