Like it or not, ELDs will be a fact of life this year

UBT’s Integrated electronic logging device (ELD) with Elog system certified by Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA).

ST. LOUIS — Despite uncertainties about final rules and equipment availability, the compliance date for the federal electronic logging device mandate is carved in the pavement — Dec. 18, 2017.

“Are we going to delay ELDs? The answer is no,” Jack Van Steenburg, chief safety officer and assistant administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said during his appearance at the State Association Summit at UMA Motorcoach Expo 2017.

“We have no intention to extend the deadline. If there is not enough capacity to outfit the industry we may alter the decision,” he said.

“Right now, it’s December when the first wave of carriers have to have ELDs. Those carriers who have been using automatic onboard recording devices will be grandfathered in for two years,” Van Steenburg said.

“We have no intention to extend the deadline. If there is not enough capacity to outfit the industry we may alter the decision,”

Operators should not count on pending legal challenges from the trucking industry to overturn the logging device mandate, said John Gaither, regional sales manager for GPS Insight, an electronics vendor in High Point, N.C.

Don’t delay

“It is a good idea not to wait. We do not believe it is going to be successfully challenged in the courts,” he said. “If you have nothing on your fleet and you are pulled over for roadside inspection in late December, what is likely to happen is you will get a citation and your driver is going to be put out of service.”

FMCSA was planning an April listening session with the ELD vendors “to resolve any of their questions, mainly on certifications,” Van Steenburg said.

He acknowledged that the 27 vendors currently on the administration’s website list do not include many of the industry’s providers.

The self-certification process for ELD vendors prompted a number of questions from operators concerned about the possible consequences of buying devices that don’t meet federal standards.

“I worry about putting my operating authority in jeopardy,” Van Steenburg was told by Gladys Gillis, CEO of Starline Luxury Coaches in Seattle.

“Logbooks are already one of the top violation categories. If I choose the wrong company because it is on the list but it can’t deliver because of some technical issue, I worry about that devastating my company. I could go back to paper logs but then I wouldn’t be compliant,” she said.

“Do you see that down the road for some of us, or do you believe we will come up with a way to work together to get through it?” Gillis asked.

“I worry about putting my operating authority in jeopardy,” Van Steenburg was told by Gladys Gillis, CEO of Starline Luxury Coaches in Seattle.

Another commenter in the audience noted that the current grace period for replacing a broken device on a motorcoach would not be sufficient if an entire vendor product line failed.


Industry representatives expressed concerns that the government is not testing ELDs coming on the market.

“We are not verifying the technical specifications,” Van Steenburg acknowldeged. “Testing is beyond our capacity. That is the carriers’ responsibility. It is a business decision you are going to have to make.”

Loretta G. Bitner, chief of the commercial passenger carrier safety division of FMCSA, elaborated on Van Steenburg’s explanation.

“We adopted the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) model for manufacturers certifying they will meet the regulations because we don’t have the ability to do all the testing that would be required. When vendors sign up on that registry they are certifying that they meet that requirement.”

Van Steenburg was asked if ELD suppliers risked sanctions for selling unworkable devices.

“We don’t regulate them. There is no penalty. It is just bad business. They are not going to do much business if they are yanked off the list,” he said.

Bittner said FMCSA already has removed one from the list, adding that the agency plans to make some accommodations for carriers that buy a vendor package that fails.

“If we find a company is not compliant there will be some way to get through that,” she said.

A number of vendors are waiting for regulations to be firmed up before formally listing themselves on the FMCSA website as certified.

“A lot of the biggest players are not on there yet but they are going to be on there,” Van Steenburg said.

Gaither, who led an Expo education session on ELD selection and usage, said his company is not on the site.

“Most of the vendors at this show are not on the site,” he said.

Matt Dickey, regional account manager for Zonar Systems, an Expo exhibitor, said the company was waiting until the very end to make sure its software is written to meet the law.

“We know there are going to be changes,” Dickey said. “There isn’t any benefit right now to being self-certified. That is why we are sitting by the side along with the other larger players.”

Meeting demand

Will vendors be able to handle demand for thousands of electronic logging devices by the end of the year?

“We know there are going to be changes,” Dickey said. “There isn’t any benefit right now to being self-certified. That is why we are sitting by the side along with the other larger players.”

“That is a great question,” said Steve Katz, director of business development for ISE Fleet Services of Coralville, Iowa, an Expo exhibitor. “We are working very hard to accommodate that. We are recognizing that demand is going to be huge and we are doing everything we can and investing in inventory.

“Some of us have the good fortune of providing this type of service for a number of years so we have a strong relationship with the vendors of hardware. In some cases it is self-built.”

Because so many vendors will self-certify themselves for electronic logging device business, operators must do plenty of research before committing their business and operating authority to one of them.

“It is not difficult to put yourself on that website,” Gaither said during his education session. “FMCSA will only intervene beginning sometime next year and only then if a vendor’s system is reported to them, probably by a compliance officer who doesn’t think the outfit is legal.

“There are a number of reputable suppliers. Look for a vendor that has an established track record and has passenger carrier experience. First and foremost, look for a vendor you think you can trust. Ask yourself if the vendor will survive beyond this initial period of high demand.”

Operators are advised to get a written promise from vendors on how they would compensate customers who might be caught out of compliance by failure to deliver products that function — or deliver the units at all.

“You should be asking people about their customer support,” said Bitner of FMCSA. “Something in your contract should state how they are going to stand behind that contract.”

Installation and training are other important differentiating factors, Gaither said. “Is it easy for driver to use? Does the operating system have wide support and access to updates?

“Look for commercial-grade hardware as opposed to consumer electronics. Ask if the hardware is warranted and supported directly by the supplier,” he continued. “How does their system handle interruptions in remote areas?”

Who you gonna call?

There are a number of ways in which ELD vendors can price hardware and services, Gaither said.

“Will you be paying the supplier for everything or will you also be paying someone for the data plan? When you have a problem, who do you call?”

System pricing will depend greatly on the range of services purchased with the ELD system.

“Some systems that are a lot less expensive have very limited capabilities,” Gaither said. “Are you after a fleet management system that incorporates a lot of capabilities and benefits or just an electronic logging device?”

The ability to electronically prompt and record a daily vehicle inspection report is an important feature to consider, Gaither said.

“An electronic DVIR will prompt the driver when he signs in to do a pre-trip inspection and document that the vehicle is certified safe to operate. When the driver signs out the system will prompt the driver to do a post-trip inspection and document any defects he finds.”

Some systems take DVIR a step further, he said.

“Look for DVIR software that will allow you to customize so you can tailor the checklist to your fleet and include things like your public address system and DVD player. Another thing is giving the driver the capability to certify that a repair has taken place during a trip.”

The costs of equipping a fleet and back office with ELD service “is all over the map,” said Steve Katz of ISE Fleet Services.

“It can range from no up-front cost with a monthly cost that includes the hardware, subscription and cellular time to an upfront cost that can range from a few hundred dollars to well over a thousand dollars per coach for hardware, then a monthly cost for service,” he said.

If equipment is purchased up front, monthly service costs could range as high as $60 per month, Katz said.

Fleets with histories of onboard automation usage have realized that benefits exceed the costs of the systems, Gaither said.

“The device can keep the driver informed about his available driving hours all day long. If drivers do drive themselves into a situation, the situation will tell them.

Accurate Tracking

“Drivers will have a tendency to gain available drive time because their tracking is much more accurate. Because they are rounding off duty status changes to the nearest minute, they will typically gain up to two or three hours in a 60- or 70-hour week,” he said. “If your drivers are taking unnecessary routes, you may find that you can do the same work with 1 or 2 percent fewer miles traveled. You would be astounded at the number of dollars that flow to your bottom line by reducing unnecessary miles.”

Electronic records also can reduce administrative costs, Gaither said.

“The folks in your office who were devoted to logbook auditing and fuel tax reporting can do things to help you raise revenue. You have the ability to measure miles traveled by state. Some systems have links to fuel cards.”


Share this post