It’s difficult to talk about DOT compliance without at least mentioning hours-of-service (HOS). The reason is that HOS violations are double weighted in the context of an audit. As a result, HOS is often the area that trips up motor carriers in an audit and sometimes leads to a downgraded safety rating and monetary penalties. Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) have been around for a while now. In theory, HOS should be easier than it ever has been for motor carriers. If it’s not, maybe the questions in this video are worth looking into with your vendor or maybe it’s just time to look for a new ELD solution. ELDs have certainly made the review of logs very easy for enforcement at roadside and in the context of an audit. While this is great for enforcement, carriers that are stuck with a bad ELD solution will discover that compliance is made even more difficult with ELDs.
Over the years, I’ve looked at several ELD solutions at the request of my motor carrier clients and at the request of many ELD vendors directly. With motor carriers, my review is focused on ELD processes, making sure the ELD is working for the company and not getting in the way of the motor carrier maintaining HOS compliance. When I test an ELD solution at the request of an ELD vendor, that review is focused on the ELD technical specifications and ELD test cases and that review is carried out with the goal of improving the device’s compliance with the requirements of the ELD rule. Regardless for whom I requesting the review, I separate it into two distinct buckets: in-truck testing and back-office or administrative testing. A great ELD solution is strong in the truck as well as in the back office. If a solution is weak in one of these areas, it will eventually catch up with the motor carrier. So, let’s look at these questions that you should ask when you’re shopping for an ELD solution or if you’re just looking to make sure your ELD practices are up to snuff.
Question #1: Can I demo your device?
Don’t just sit through the demo from the vendor sales rep. While simulators and Zoom meetings can be great for getting a flavor for the ELD solution, don’t discount the value of having a few of your trusted and experienced drivers’ feedback on the ELD solution after running it on their truck for a month. This simple step could’ve saved a number of my motor carrier clients from being locked into a contract with a solution they are unhappy with. This contract question leads me to my next question.
Question #2: What is the true term of the agreement?
Many ELD contracts I’ve reviewed have very poorly defined contract terms as far as start date and end dates go. For example, if you are slowly transitioning your fleet from ELD A to ELD B, does the term of the contract start when you place your first device, or does the contract term start when the last device is placed on a truck? This could mean six months to you on contract term. Six months could feel like a very long time if you want out of a contract. Other contract landmines include minimum device count requirements, termination procedure, and those contracts that disclaim everything under the sun. If you aren’t comfortable with the contract, get help with it from counsel!
Question #3: What reports are available?
This may be the most important question of all. There are a number of critical reports that you as the motor carrier should be working on a scheduled basis. Some of these common reports include: personal conveyance report; unidentified driving events report; HOS violation report; odometer jump report; form and manner violation report; and a malfunction report. Of the reports that I’ve listed, I will rank them based on importance and discuss some of the details of these reports, as most motor carriers are likely dealing with ELDs on a daily basis at this point.
Unidentified driving report. The most important report of those mentioned is the unidentified driving events report. The ELD rule requires that an ELD record all automatically recorded drive time generated while no driver is logged in. This automatically recorded time has to go to a single unidentified events bucket that the motor carrier can review and work from the back office. If you as a motor carrier have never worked this unidentified drive time, I would suggest you do so as soon as possible. Over the years, I’ve seen a number of good carriers with thousands of unidentified driving events that had piled up due to them not working this report on a regular basis. In my opinion, the unidentified driving events should be reviewed on a daily basis at first and then potentially on a weekly basis once the problematic drivers have been trained or counseled into better habits. I can tell you, the DOT will most likely be asking for this unidentified drive time report if they come in for a focused or full audit.
Personal conveyance report. Next the personal conveyance report. This report can be worked weekly so long as personal conveyance isn’t being widely abused in your fleet. If you haven’t been paying close attention to personal conveyance use, chances are, you likely have your work cut out for you here. If this is you, I’d suggest you first establish an ELD policy that clearly defines what is expected of drivers with regards to ELD use. This would include a detailed section on personal conveyance. As long as the personal conveyance use is permissible as per the FMCSA guidance, It is up to you as the motor carrier what type of limitations are placed on personal conveyance. I’ve seen many motor carriers place time or distance limitations on personal conveyance use and I’ve also seen some motor carriers simply turn personal conveyance off on their devices (which is perfectly acceptable if a motor carrier decides to do so). These are all items that should be in an ELD policy. In this ELD policy, A motor carrier should be sure to provide real examples of permissible personal conveyance use and impermissible personal conveyance use. Check out our video on personal conveyance if this topic gives you a headache as our personal conveyance video really makes the issue more digestible for everyone.
Last point on reports: the HOS violation report is great, but it can’t take the place of auditing logs. I challenge you to audit 10% of all logs for a month and compare the violations discovered to the HOS violation report. I can almost guaranty the violations will not be fully aligned. Both audits and the HOS violation report should be used as tools for HOS compliance.
Question #4: How are exemptions and rulesets handled?
Motor carriers need to understand how exemptions and rulesets are activated through their ELD devices. Can drivers switch between oilfield HOS on their device or simply switch into AOBRD mode on their device? How can you as the motor carrier track the use of the short-haul exemption and the use of adverse driving conditions? One thing is certain, drivers will figure out how to tap into the HOS weaknesses of each device, and believe me, there is no perfect ELD solution. The best scenario is to have all exemptions controlled from the back office. However, if the short-haul exemption is regularly used in your fleet, this may be impractical. Also, many carriers should strongly consider allowing for the additional flexibility given by adverse driving conditions exemption. Again, having a process and clearly defined policy on HOS and ELDs is key to making sure drivers understand what is expected of them.
Question #5: What training is available?
So we’ll wrap up with one last question which is: What training is available? Most ELD vendors offer some level of online based training that assists drivers and safety managers with ELD use and functionality. If the vendor you are using or considering does not have any trainings available, you should try to understand why this is the case and seek out other resources available from the vendor. If online trainings are available, these are great remediation tools when a driver demonstrates a lack of understanding with their ELD use.
Whether you're in the process of sourcing an ELD solution or are already locked into a contract, you should take time to understand whether your chosen platform is providing you the tools and functionality that you need to remain compliant. If you have any specific questions about ELDs, feel free to reach out to us. Also, if you're in need of in-depth training on topics like ELDs, HOS, driver qualification, and much more, be sure to check out our innovative courses through Trucksafe Academy.