FMCSA passes a mandate requiring most interstate truckers to switch to Electronic Logging Devices by 2017

In December 2015 the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced the adoption of a Final Rule aiming to improve roadway safety. The mandate’s goal is to employ technology to strengthen both commercial truck and bus drivers’ compliance with fatigue prevention hours-of-service regulations.

“Since 1938, complex, on-duty/off-duty logs for truck and bus drivers were made with pencil and paper, virtually impossible to verify,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a press release. “This automated technology not only brings logging records into the modern age, it also allows roadside safety inspectors to unmask violations of federal law that put lives at risk.”

The mandate aims to replace outdated paper logs, which many drivers use to record their compliance with Hours of Service (HOS) requirements, by requiring the majority of interstate truckers to use an approved electronic logging device (ELD) to record their Record of Duty Status (RODS). The initial announcement of this rule was met with mixed reviews. Some supported the rule, saying it was a sensible and long overdue safety rule, while others said there was no issue with the pen and paper logbooks, adding that ELDs usually have the effect of pushing drivers even harder during their duty time.

The FMCSA says that limiting the location tracking of ELDs to reduced proximities will help safeguard drivers against harassment from carriers.

After releasing a proposed version of the rule in March of 2014, the FMCSA opened the floor for comments. By the end of the comment period, they had received over 2,000 comments from individuals, most of which found fault with the rule. The FMCSA took the feedback and went back to the drawing board, releasing a 516-page finalized version of the rule on December 11 the following year.

According to the FMCSA, the rule, which goes into effect December 18, 2017, is expected to save the industry $1 billion per year in reduced time and paperwork. In addition to that, the FMCSA was able to quantify the impact the rule will have on driver safety, stating it will save 26 lives and prevent 562 injuries every year.

The mandate will apply to all drivers who are required to keep RODS, but there are some exceptions. Drivers who keep RODS for only 8 days or fewer during a 30-day work period, drivers in drive-away and tow-away operations, and truckers operating vehicles older than model year 2000 are exempt. Carriers and drivers that are currently using Automatic Onboard Recording Devices (AOBRDs) or that install them prior to the 2017 compliance date will have a two-year implementation period to replace the AOBRDs with ELDs. Drivers who do not fall into any of those categories will be required to have an ELD installed and in use by December 18, 2017. After December 16, 2019, the twoyear implementation term for AOBRDs users ends, requiring all drivers and carriers subject to the rule to use certified, registered ELDs that comply with requirements of the ELD regulations.

Compliant ELDs must be able to automatically record date, time, location information as well as engine hours, vehicle miles, and the ID information of the driver using the device. In addition to that, the device must be able to transfer data during roadside inspections on demand via email, wireless web-based services, USB 2.0 or Bluetooth. The rule also requires ELDs present a graph grid of a driver’s daily duty status changes on either the units themselves, or in printouts.

The ELDs, however, are not required to track a vehicle or drive in real-time, nor are they required to include driver-carrier communication capabilities. The reason for this is likely due to the fact that a 2012 version of the mandate was scrapped because it didn’t include any protection for drivers to prevent being harassed during their off-duty hours. ELDs will only provide an approximate location, within a 1-mile radius, while the driver is on-duty. The FMCSA says that limiting the location tracking of ELDs to reduced proximities will help safeguard drivers against harassment from carriers. ELDs are also required to have a mute function so messages and alerts don’t interrupt drivers’ off-duty rest periods.

Though the mandate aims to streamline the record-keeping process in the trucking industry, it still requires drivers and carriers to retain supporting documents to verify HOS compliance. Drivers must submit their RODS and supporting documents to the motor carrier no more than 13 days after receiving them and the motor carrier is not permitted to retain more than eight supporting documents for each 24-hour period the driver is on duty. Each supporting document must have the driver’s name, the date, their location and the time.

The driver or carrier is allowed to edit ELD records, but the mandate establishes new protocol for edits that aims to protect the records from manipulative editing. The device’s original record will always be maintained and all users must use their unique login ID so their edits can be tracked and annotations can be kept transparent. If a driver or carrier does edit the ELD, they must include a note that explains the reason for the edit. Even if the carrier makes edits, the driver must approved them before they’re added to the RODS to protect them from unilateral changes.

Whether they think that the mandate is a much-needed step up from the antiquated logging methods used today, or an unnecessary “Big Brother” style invasion from the government, members of the industry no longer have a choice in the matter. The rule officially took effect on February 16 of this year, giving carriers and drivers a two-year window from the December 11, 2015, publication date to the December 18, 2017, compliance date to prepare for the changes. With any change in policy or upgrade in technology there is bound to be push back, but the ELD aims to bring more accountability into the trucking industry to keep the roads safe and the drivers happy. With time, the switch to ELDs will seem no more outlandish than switching from clocking in by stamping a time card to logging in electronically in an attempt to prevent payroll fraud.

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