Since the ELD requirement went into effect, trucking companies have been looking for new ways to use technology to their advantage and technology OEMs have been jumping at the chance to provide them with tough and effective solutions that answer pressing business needs. One area that is seeing a lot of activity is the area of mobile electronic devices. And now ruggedized hardware is filling an important niche.
Trucking companies operate in a field that can be tough on equipment, especially sensitive electronic equipment. Trucks are constantly on the move, items get jostled around, and truck drivers are always climbing in and out of the cab. It simply is not an easy environment for electronics. With the ELD mandate in place, truck fleets are facing big challenges finding hardware tough enough to stay running in the face of heavy-duty trucking applications.
Fortunately, companies are answering the call. One area where toughness has been an issue has been around screen-enabled devices and tablets. A decade ago, no one really thought too much about tablets in a trucking application. Yet, since the ELD rule went into effect in 2017, regulated fleets must make lots of adjustments to how they monitor, track, and report hours of service for their truck drivers.
The ELD Mandate and RODS Data
You may be wondering, “But what does the ELD mandate have to do with tablets?” Sure, the mandate requires the use of an electronic logging device that is not necessarily a tablet, but motor carriers must have the requisite technology needed to record hours of service as part of their daily record of duty status (RODS) updates. Not properly documenting this information, or having it handy, will result in fines and violations, and there are few and limited exemptions to the rule.
The last thing a motor carrier wants is to be put out of service or given a hefty fine simply because they are not complying with the ELD mandate. Even worse, motor carriers who are found to be habitually breaking the rules may find themselves on the receiving end of an FMCSA audit, which is never fun. Compliance with the rule requires that truck drivers provide either a printout or an easy-to-read display of their RODS.
Even more, the rule also requires that truck drivers can transfer their RODS data to an inspector via Bluetooth or a USB 2.0 connection. Although these seem like technical onerous requirements, failing to comply with them will more than likely result in an unwanted violation. In fact, ask just about any fleet manager and they will tell you that the biggest challenges that a fleet faces where ELD implementation is concerned are the technical challenges.
Compounding the problem are providers that have entered the market but did not have the necessary experience to succeed in the transportation sector. Sure, some of these companies had great engineers and technicians, but how much do they know about the intricacies of fleet management? In some extreme cases, motor carriers have been left holding the violations grab bag when their partner ELD company could not provide a level of service to prevent them from getting hit when their device does not function according to specification.
There has been more than one case of ELD providers shutting down suddenly, leaving fleets scrambling as they try to find a new provider while remaining compliant. Fortunately, in many of these instances, other providers stepped in to fill the void and prevent carriers from suffering all-out collapse. It is important to keep in mind that fleets have eight days to repair or replace a malfunctioning ELD or insufficient provider. Even if it is the partner or vendor’s fault, the motor carrier is responsible for handling it in an expeditious manner. Inspectors or auditors won’t care if the company tries to lay blame on the ELD partner or vendor. In the eyes of a regulator, the buck stops at the motor carrier’s front door.
Yet, whether the company providing the device will be around for the, shall we say, “long haul” is just one consideration. Another consideration lies in the components that the equipment is constructed from. Is the display long-lasting and resistant to bouncing and jarring? Will the technical aspects of the tool meet compliance requirements without compromising on suitability and resiliency?
ELD Rule Specifics
The ELD rule consists of specific regulations and requirements. Several of these requirements cover display hardware. Fortunately, the ELD rule does allow for the use of a computer, tablet, or smartphone device to create, electronically sign, and store a truck driver’s RODS. Whether you are utilizing the ELD device itself, a tablet, or smartphone, it is critical that the device and application in use conform to section 395.8 of the FMCSRs.
This means that the device must include three critical elements:
- A daily and easily-readable header;
- A list of driving duty status changes listed in an easily-readable graph grid, and;
- Detailed daily log data.
If the intended device can demonstrate the technical requirements, the motor carrier or truck driver using it won’t face a potential violation if they run into a road inspection. Therefore, it is so important to choose an ELD or technical provider that can be relied upon.
A good measure of whether a technical provider has a good reputation and adequate experience working within the industry, they must be able to understand and answer the following questions:
- Are they able to verify that the device meets the technical specifications laid out in the ELD rule, as outlined by the FMCSA?
- Does the device display include the required standardized data and authorized safety information in a format that inspection officials will be able to easily read and understand? Will it include the top three critical elements?
- Is the device capable of transferring data either through USB 2.0, Bluetooth wireless connection, web, or email transfer interface?
- Is there a volume control or sound muting functionality?
A reputable and reliable ELD provider will be able to meet the needs of their clients and the FMCSR requirements, as well as contingency plans in the case of a malfunction or other issue that puts the device out of service. With just eight days to address the issue, the hardware provider must be able to respond to malfunctions or other compliance issues in an expeditious fashion.
So, here is an alternate question. If the ELD compliance rules state that a trucking company or truck driver can use an alternate device if it meets the same requirements that an ELD must meet, what is preventing an operator from switching to a different device? Really, nothing.
If the device in question meets the technical specifications laid out in section 395.8, there is no other rule stating that it must technically be an ELD by name for it to pass muster. This is where companies that offer rugged products that meet the ELD rule requirements while not necessarily offering an ELD per se come in to play.
Turning to a Rugged Device
Rugged smart devices that may still meet ELD requirements include tablets, smartphones, and other connected devices. Rugged devices could be key to ELD compliance and productivity, although they need to be able to handle the following:
- Wear and tear associated with the trucking environment.
- Protection against moisture or excessive dust or dirt.
- Durability in the case the device is dropped.
The devices must also be able to do more than simply survive use, they must also be able to noticeably improve productivity. Are the devices:
- Portable with strong web connectivity?
- Able to deliver on a low cost of ownership?
- Able to be used in all environments and operated using gloves?
- Have a low failure rate?
- Have a low interrupted time rate?
- Have long-lasting batteries or other type of reliable power supply?
- Provided with a display that can be easily-read in bright sunlight or at night?
- Resistant to vibration?
Rugged devices may provide excellent alternatives to standard ELD devices. Although they may come with a higher price point – obviously, a tablet might be more expensive than a basic ELD device – they come with a far higher level of functionality and level of integration. With research showing that rugged devices have a meager 2% failure rate when compared to an 11% failure rate for non-rugged devices.
With the return on investment so high for rugged devices that could potentially replace standard ELDs and offer greater functionality, can your fleet afford to ignore the potential? Ruggedized hardware offers peace of mind for trucking fleets trying to find the best solution in a highly regulated ELD environment. If you are looking for a new ELD solution, perhaps now is the time to conduct some in-depth research to determine if these devices are right for you.