Once enforcement of the ELD mandate began in December, everyone was wondering: How will this all shake out? Today, we will look at what some of the problems are that truckers and fleets are facing as they adapt to the change.
The first problem, which many predicted, is in truck driver confusion. A large problem lies in truck drivers being unsure if their device is either a compliant ELD device or a grandfathered automatic onboard recording device (AOBRD). Other concerns surround vendor support and truck drivers running out of hours due to unforeseen delays.
This problem isn’t with truck drivers, either. Enforcement authorities are also having a tough time isolating whether a device is compliant, simply due to the large amount and variety of devices being used. Truck drivers and fleets are also concerned with an increasing number of citations being issued, even though the truck drivers were in total compliance with Section 395.15.
It is important that both motor carriers and owner-operators understand the requirements of the device that is on their truck. While this may sound like a very basic requirement, with so much variety out there, it can be hard to discern which device you should be using. Yet, not knowing which device – or understanding the requirements of the device – could result in a miscommunication with enforcement or even a potential violation.
Still, the problem is compounded because enforcement isn’t quite sure which is which. Many reports have rolled in of truck drivers being cited for an ELD-related violation when in fact they were operating with a compliant AOBRD. The main violation being reported was for a “failure to transfer data.” Yet, the problem is that AOBRD’s are not required to have a data transfer function. They only need to be able to display the data or provide a printing function so that the data can be acquired by enforcement.
When something like this happens, it is important that the truck driver or fleet in question immediately contest the citation via the DataQs process. Fortunately, there need not be any worry about any CSA point impacts right away, since the official impact date doesn’t come around until April 1, 2018. Still, it is important to ensure invalid citations are contested even before the April 1 date hits. Insurance companies and courts will not look favorably on an outstanding pattern of ELD-related violations, no matter what your CSA scores are.
Still, there have even been problems reported with ELDs that are supposed to be compliant. In these cases, truck drivers should be allowed to continue using the devices as AOBRDs if the display on the device was compliant with the mandate. In many of these cases, the problem is with the data transfer issues with the ELDs themselves, rather than any system issues related to implementation. Compounding the problem is the different enforcement mechanisms in place depending on the state or region an operator is working in.
When an owner-operator or motor carrier discovers an ELD malfunction, it must be repaired within eight days of discovering the malfunction. If you do not have the time or resources to fix the problem within the allotted timeframe, it is possible to file for an extension with the FMCSA office. If you plan to do so, you must file the extension within five days of the problem. In some cases, motor carriers have reported vendors who were unable to assist the motor carrier in replacing the problem device with a compliant one. In this case it is important the vendor issue be reported to the FMCSA or replaced with a different vendor.
Addressing Vendor Problems
As many a motor carrier will tell you, ensuring a device is compliant is important, but receiving actionable support from the vendor is even more important. Many fleets are reporting that vendors just aren’t ready to offer the kind of customer support they require.
Consider that there are over 174 vendors utilizing nearly 300 different ELD device models. Just look at the FMCSA’s ELD registry and you can see how complicated the problem has become. And since many of these businesses have never operated in this space before.
While fleets are expressing frustration that vendors that they have partnered with don’t offer the level of support needed to ensure equipment stays running and truck drivers don’t get frustrated, a lot of ELD vendors are brand new companies who themselves are trying to figure out the best ways to operate in this space.
Take a look at any trucking blogs operated by various trucking companies, and you will find that truck drivers and fleet managers are frustrated with the level of support offered by many of the companies they are spending their hard-earned dollars partnering with. One way to prevent this is to take a close look at the vendor you are choosing. Do they offer 24/7 customer support? Since most fleets operate on an around-the-clock basis, having all-day/all-night customer support standing by is critical to ensuring problems get addressed and questions get answered.
Also consider the amount of training, manuals, materials, data transfer procedures, necessary edits, and other factors that go into maintaining a functional ELD. If your vendor cannot quickly answer these questions, it may be time to switch vendors.
Keeping Hours of Service In Mind
Another problem many truck drivers and fleets are facing are with unforeseen delays. Although the hours of service requirements have not changed, ELDs do not take unforeseen delays into account. When a truck driver is stuck in a construction zone or at a shipper who is causing a major delay, it hits their hours of service metric.
Compounding the problem, truck drivers may not always be able to find a safe place to quickly park if they see that a delay may cause them to run over their hours. When this happens, it is important that the fleet back office square away the discrepancy to avoid the truck driver from feeling like the problem is theirs. Have their available hours been considered and potential delays factored in when the numbers are put together? Truck drivers should not be held responsible for issues that are not of their own making.
One way to avoid this is to ensure dispatching procedures allow for truck drivers to properly handle scenarios where there may not be enough capacity to handle specific loads. Which loads are priority? Policies must be in place to allow truck drivers to make the right decision – one that doesn’t negatively impact their performance for something that isn’t their fault.
Does your fleet have a procedure in place that outlines what a truck driver should do if they must leave a shipper or receiver and hit the road without enough hours to make it to a suitable place to park? In these situations, far too many motor carriers rely on what is considered “off-duty” driving, otherwise known as a personal conveyance. Yet, this isn’t the way to handle the issue. A personal conveyance will not hold up as an effective back-up plan if enforcement becomes a concern.
The main reason for this lies in the fact that if a truck driver runs out of hours, and must leave a certain location, if they don’t have permission to park, they are going to run into a conflict with their “on-duty” driving hours. Will the back office be able to square these inconsistencies away? To avoid a problem with enforcement or scoring, it will be critical that they do so.
Training and Safety
Finally, it is incumbent on fleets to make sure they are properly training their truck drivers on how to properly annotate and mark any exceptions used, especially if they think an hours of service violation may occur. While violation trends may be a concern for most fleets, if truck drivers and back office workers have a thorough documented paper trail showing what happened, it will prove to authorities and insurance companies that the fleet is not engaging in unsafe practices or putting their truck drivers at risk.
In the end, it is important to consider that the start date for full enforcement is rapidly approaching. With April 1 rapidly approaching, truck drivers and fleets will face serious enforcement issues – with being put out of service the most extreme – if they are not properly following the rules.
Whether it be finding the right vendor or outlining a comprehensive policy, fleets and owner-operators must ensure they are not relying on the excuse that they “simply didn’t know.” In the face of strong enforcement, this reasoning simply will not fly. Even more, truck drivers should not have their safety put at stake because there aren’t effective policies outlined to deal with any extenuating circumstances.
While some fleets may or may not agree with the ELD mandate, it is now the law of the land. Ensuring you are prepared for full enforcement will set you up for success and ensure you don’t get hit with a large insurance bill or enforcement concern.