Author: [Guest] Mark Solomon, Senior Editor 

The US federal government’s regulations mandating the use of Electronic Logging Devices, also known as Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBRs), in trucks are expected to take effect sometime next year. Once it does, all carriers and drivers governed by the federal Hours-of-Service rules must be in compliance within two years of the 2015 effective date. An additional two-year extension will be granted to carriers with grandfathered automatic onboard recording devices or pre-rule electronic driver logs.

The rules, which have yet to be finalized, require fleets and drivers to switch from traditional paper logs to electronic driver logs. Electronic logs will monitor a vehicle’s location up-to-the-minute, compared to the 15-minute intervals required under the paper-log requirements. The proposal also addresses technical standards for the devices, and the documents that the government will require to ensure compliance. The government had proposed ELD rules in 2010, but a federal court threw out the rules in 2011 on grounds the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which crafted the rules, failed to address the prospect that fleet managers might use the devices to harass their drivers.

Supporter/Opponent Opinion 

Supporters of driver log reporting said the devices will ensure honesty and accountability, improve highway safety, and help fleet operations run more efficiently. Opponents maintain the devices cannot prevent driver fatigue, since they don’t record tasks unrelated to driving. Under the rules, a driver must manually input to the EOBR whether he or she is still on-duty though not driving—such as loading or unloading the truck, inspecting or repairing the vehicle, and filling out paperwork, or off-duty.

Advocates of small independent owner-operators say the government hasn’t proven that the safety benefits outweigh the costs. FMCSA estimates that the device would cost about $1,675 per truck. That doesn’t include a $100 installation fee, a $40 monthly connection fee, and potentially hundreds of dollars in out-of-warranty maintenance and repair costs. The government has proposed that printers be attached to each ELD, a step that even supporters of the devices oppose.

It is hoped that electronic driver log software that works on various mobile devices could drive down costs to levels that make it easier for small operators to comply. It also gives drivers the flexibility to manage their Hours-of-Service compliance from any location instead of being tethered to a cab. Still, veteran transport analyst Donald Broughton warns the cost and complexity of electronic driver log compliance will bankrupt more marginal carriers than did the truck recession that started in 2006 and the Great Recession that followed a year later.

Benefits of Electronic Logging Devices

Beyond the purported safety improvements, electronic logging devices will help fleets and owner-operators save money by freeing drivers from the time-consuming act of manual log reporting, ELD advocates say. A recent study by Aberdeen Group, a consultancy, found that fleets surveyed that use electronic onboard recorders cut their operating costs by 10 percent, reduced vehicle downtime by 15 percent, and improved vehicle utilization by 13 percent. They also increased their fleet compliance by 26 percent and their driver compliance by 28 percent, according to the study.