Today's Trucking

IN PRINT — ELDs Part 3: Inside the Black Boxes

Posted: August 11, 2016 by Jim Park

If you’re prone to anxiety when facing a wide variety of choice, such as when you’re buying a pair of shoes or a candy bar, consider asking someone else in the fleet to spec’ an Electronic Logging Device (ELD). There are more than 25 suppliers in the space now; by this time next year that number is expected to swell fourfold. 

Regardless of how many suppliers eventually appear, all will be offering a wide array of functionality and capability. There is a defined set of technical performance criteria the device must meet. Beyond that, it’s all about options, from full suites of fleet management tools, to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) solutions and stand-alone ELDs that do little more than track and report Hours of Service records.  

With any potential Canadian regulation still a work on progress, the already-published U.S. rule still offers plenty of guidance in the ultimate choice. The Canadian rule is expected to be quite similar in function and scope, too. 

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rules require an ELD to be hardwired to the engine to record engine on and off time as well as distance, motion status and engine hours. Handheld devices such as tablets and smartphones can meet this requirement with a black box connection to the truck’s data port, using a Bluetooth link to the device. Such devices must be mounted and secured while the vehicle is in motion. 

The device must have GPS or satellite connections that can record location data at least once every 60 minutes, when the engine is started and shut down, as well as at every change of duty status, during “yard moves”, and when used for personal conveyance. In this mode, the accuracy of the location must be altered from one mile (1.6 kilometers) during normal operation to 10 miles (16 kilometers) to protect the driver’s privacy. 

The device must also offer at least two of the following methods of communication with enforcement at roadside: USB, web connectivity, Bluetooth, email or printouts. 

The rule also requires certain functionality around the information that appears on the display as well as the data file for auditing purposes, the ability to edit logs while retaining the original files, malfunction indicators, unassigned driver reports, and more. This information is readily available and vendors will be required to comply with all the requirements. It’s therefore pretty important that the device you choose meets the requirement, and more importantly, will keep on meeting the requirements. 

“If the device malfunctions or quits entirely, you will have to reconstruct the previous seven day’s logs, and get the device working again within eight days,” says John Seidl, owner of truck safety consultancy Integrated Risk Solutions. “Can you vendor meet that eight-day turnaround requirement? Look for a supplier with a nationwide presence that can deliver on those requirements.” 

The issue of certification is a thorny one. Vendors must self-certify their devices, which is impossible at this time due to the lack of test procedures from FMCSA. When you buy a product that will eventually be listed on FMCSA’s list of certified devices, the assumption will be that it will be certified. However, as Seidl points out, if the device is found to be non-compliant sometime down the road, probably in the course of a facility audit, it might be delisted. 

“That would leave you, the owner of perhaps hundreds of such devices, with a big collection or paperweights,” he says. “If your device disappears from FMCSA’s list, you will have to replace every device in your fleet if the supplier can’t remedy the problem. Choose wisely.” 

Alexis Capelle, ELD program manager at Continental, echoes Seidl’s concerns about choosing a vendor. He warns that data stored on the vendors’ servers has to be retained for a period of six months. If the vendors suffers a server problem or goes out of business in the interim, what happens to your data? 

“Considering all that the carrier is responsible for, your choice of vendor can have a serious impact on your operation,” he cautions. 

Options, options, options

You can have it all, or almost nothing, and you can have it your way. Suppliers will (and already are) offering tons of fleet management options with their devices. Most vendors will provide a menu of options from asset tracking and dispatching integration, to fuel tax automation and critical event reporting and more. 

ISAAC Instruments, for example, offers an InControl system that pushes out emails about impending Hours of Service violations as well as pictures of defects reported during pre-trip inspections, notifications when drivers arrive at client locations, and scanned bills of lading for ACI documents. 

“Think of the ELD as a stepping stone into the larger possibilities offered by the system,” says Kate Rahn, director of sales and marketing at Shaw Tracking. “Before ELDs, smaller fleets might have been reluctant to embrace these options because of the cost and perceived complexity. Since ELDs are self-auditing, you won’t have to incur log auditing costs, and you now have a platform capable of delivering a host of additional functionality. We’re getting inquiries now from fleets much smaller than our traditional customer base because they see that the ELD gets them more than half way to the table. And they are seeing benefits they never expected from fleet management suites.”   

One option that’s getting a lot of attention is the BYOD setup. The Bring Your Own Device providers, such as JJ Keller, offer the ELD app and the back office infrastructure to support the ELD requirements, but customers can choose which handheld device or tablet they want to use, or they can use their existing hardware. 

“It’s a tiered offering where customers can use their own device, and tether it to our ELD which is connected to the truck’s data port,” says Tom Reader, director of marketing for ELDs at JJ Keller and Associates. “From there, they can choose a basic standalone e-log service, or a mid-level or premium option that offers additional services. It depends on what the fleet wants or needs, and what they can derive value from.” 

Kitchener, Ontario-based BigRoad has already become a popular e-logging option with owner-operators and small fleets because of the ease of use. It’s a mobile app that runs on most iOS or Android devices, but not BlackBerry or Windows devices at this point, and connects to the truck through the DashLink device. The handheld device tethers to the DashLink and the app takes care of the compliance issues. 

“We designed BigRoad to be very driver friendly, so it’s ideal for one-truck operations,” says Mike Davies, BigRoad’s vice president – products. “But we also have fleets with over a thousand trucks fully integrated into the system. Our target market is the five-to-100-truck segment. Our electronic log app is free and any driver can use it now. They will need an ELD eventually.” 

Like many other providers, Davies says the BigRoad hardware currently meets the requirements of the ELD rule, though the software has not been verified compliant yet, because FMCSA hasn’t yet provided the testing protocols. 

“We are currently AOBRD-compliant and we’re ELD ready,” he says. “When the rule takes effect in December 2017, we will push out a software update and flip on the ELD switch. Customers won’t have to do anything.” 

If you’re looking only for an ELD compliance tool, and don’t want any additional functionality and you want to avoid the monthly fees associated with connectivity and data storage, Continental offer its RoadLog ELD. It’s a standalone system that requires no over-the-air connectivity and therefore no monthly fees. Data transfer is done via a USB wifi-enabled key or an integrated printer, which complies with the ELD rule. 

“We recently added an over-the-air model called RoadLog ELD Plus,” says Continental’s Capelle. “It will be a scalable product with a full-featured back end. If you are interested in adding functionality as you grow into it, you can add features as you go.” 

That will be much less of a concern with the larger and established suppliers, but with the expected influx of new players, there are bound to be some that won’t live up to expectations. Choose your partner wisely.  

Is an Automatic On Board
Recording Device in your future?

With the American Electronic Logging Device (ELD) mandate compliance date fast approaching, should you be thinking about investing in an Automatic On Board Recording Device (AOBRD)? As strange as that might seem, investing in existing technology may be a safer strategy than diving directly into the ELD pool with little previous exposure to electronic logs. 

With its ELD regulation, the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) puts a huge burden on the fleet to get everything correct, right from the start, from managing all the intricacies of logging on and off, to choosing a compliant system. Because the regulators opted to allow the product vendors to self-certify their devices, the fleet can rely only on its own knowledge of the requirements of the mandate as well as the vendor’s word on the status of the device. If for some reason the device fails to meet the standard after you have already invested in a system, the onus is you to get compliant anyway, even if it means replacing your entire ELD infrastructure. 

The FMCSA has grandfathered AOBRDs until December 2019, so fleets can buy themselves another two years on ensuring their ELD choice is a good one by grabbing an existing AOBRD system now and preparing for the future. 

“Having an active AOBRD when the deadline passes buys you an addition 24 months before the actual ELD would be required,” says Elise Chianelli, director – safety and compliance at PeopleNet. “The December 2017 deadline still applies to either device. One way or another, fleets will have to be using electronic logs by the end of next year.” 

There are still several unresolved issues with the actual regulation as well as some compliance tests that FMCSA has not provided solutions for, namely the raw data file transfer protocols. Device manufacturers cannot currently certify their devices by verifying that they will comply with requirements. It’s a question of when FMCSA will make that information available, and some have said it could be as late as next summer. That timeline won’t leave device manufacturers much time to make changes to their systems, if needed. 

“I think we’ll see a run on AOBRD devices late in the game as fleets try to extend the compliance window so they can get comfortable with the technology,” Chianelli says. “If some of those issues haven’t been resolved as we get closer to the ELD compliance deadline, fleets that have been waiting ’til the last minute to buy are going to have to buy something. Getting an AOBRD now will take some pressure off the rollout without forcing them to rebuy later.” 

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