Roadside inspections Photo: Rusty Hubbard/AHTD

Enforcing ELDs: A new way of life for trucking

Unknowns associated with the ELD mandate abound, but right now, enforcement issues are a top concern in the industry.

The electronic logging device (ELD) mandate is here, and there are still a lot of unknowns that go along with it. The industry is still waiting to see how the mandate will really impact capacity, rates, productivity, and, of course, the growing truck driver shortage.

However, since the mandate went into effect on Dec. 18, one of the larger known issues associated with it is enforcement officer training.  

“The biggest problem we’ve seen at roadside is the training enforcement received is somewhat minimal if any,” Fred Fakkema, vice president of compliance for Zonar Systems, told Fleet Owner. “I think they’re still going through it. The issue today is when one of our legacy customers that are running AOBRDs (automatic onboard recording devices), which are grandfathered in until 2019, is being questioned as to why they don’t have an ELD and then are written up on the inspection report, if you will.”

Though enforcement officers are not putting truckers out of service for not having an ELD until April 1, they are still looking to see if drivers are indeed complying with the mandate. FMCSA has maintained that CSA points won’t go against the carrier right away, but officers are still making notes in their inspection reports.

According to Fakkema, who is a former 25-year veteran with the Washington State Patrol, the problem is that officers still don’t understand that grandfathered-in AOBRD truckers do not need to have an ELD – at least not until 2019.

“The driver needs to indicate to enforcement, ‘No, I’m not [using] an ELD; I’m [using] an AOBRD and I’m grandfathered in,’” he explained.

“Coming from the enforcement background, we know how important that first interaction is, how that should take place and what direction it will go if the driver accidentally says ‘ELD’ when he means ‘AOBRD,’” Fakkema added. “It’s really that communication piece on the roadside that’s so important.”

Holding out on ELDs

Through the month of December, Zonar saw a surge in ELD adoption rates, particularly among the smaller carriers trying to catch up with the mandate.

“A lot of them assumed that with CVSA’s announcement of the April 1 out-of-service criteria that we could wait until April, then they found out that that’s actually not the case,” Fakkema explained. “I think there’s a few of them that were hoping something would happen right before the deadline. They were hoping for a say and that hasn’t come to fruition.”

Though adoption rates were on the rise nearing the Dec. 18 deadline, many smaller carriers and owner-operators are still deciding to hold out until “hard enforcement” begins in April, according to Fakkema. It’s a trend others within the industry are seeing as well.

Kevin Hill, president and founder of CarrierLists, said that even a month before the mandate became law, two out of three smaller fleets had yet to install electronic devices. Among the smaller carriers he surveyed in the last two months, ELD adoption rates jumped to around 75%. However, adoption since has been flat, he noted.

“I think some of them are going to try to hold out,” Hill explained. “I think a lot of them had equipment on back order. I expect that once we get well into January, it will start rising again once they get their devices from back order.”

Hill pointed out that he believes many of those small fleets and owner-operators will indeed wait until April 1.

“Say 5% or 10% wait and still don’t have ELDs. If you take 5% of the trucks off the market, especially with capacity as it is right now, there will be exponential results on that,” he said.

According to DAT Solutions’ data for the week ending Dec. 30, van load-to-truck ratio was up 22% to 12.3 from 10.1 the previous week, and reefer load-to-truck ratio was up 33% to 23.7 from 17.8 the previous week. DAT analyst Mark Montague said those load-to-truck ratios are at record highs.

Because of the activity in the market and strong economic growth, Hill explained driver time is going to become much more valuable as we head further into 2018. That means the shippers who are inefficient loading or unloading and have chronic detention problems will see their costs rise more than their competitors in 2018, he said.

Hill also projects inefficient shippers will have two choices going forward: Pay higher-than-market rates, or invest capital to become more efficient in their production and shipping departments. 

In addition, DAT’s Montague stressed that with load-to-truck ratios setting record highs, it is imperative shippers make their operations more driver friendly.

“I’ve been in drop lots where a driver has to spend a half hour hunting down his trailer,” Montague told Fleet Owner. “So there are a number of things shippers can do to make it more friendly for truck drivers and minimize their time spent at the facilities.”  

For instance, Montague emphasized the need for solid communication between the receiving gate and the dock to minimize loading and unloading times. He also suggested shippers make their facilities more available to drivers taking their mandated breaks.

ELDs and the driver shortage

There has also been a lot of discussion about drivers leaving the industry because of the ELD mandate. However, as Montague pointed out, market rates are so strong right now that it’s “hard to envision a meaningful exodus of owner-operators in the industry.”

For those who haven’t yet installed an ELD, Montague noted that he believes there will be a lot of pressure to comply with the mandate before April 1.

“I think if the guys get a ticket, they are going to be convinced they are going to need to go out and get an ELD,” he explained. “If it gets back to the company the owner-operators drive for, that’s not going to sit well with the company because eventually it will impact the company’s insurance rates.”

Montague added that particularly knowledgeable shippers are pretty well-educated on the mandate at this point and that they have been requiring their carriers and brokers to hire drivers with ELDs.

“If you find out your load was delayed because the driver didn’t have an ELD and was stopped, that’s definitely going to be a huge negative,” he said.

As for training drivers and making them more comfortable with the idea of using an ELD, Fakkema suggests fleet managers leverage drivers who have already embraced the technology to help mentor more reluctant drivers.

“It’s hard to push something from the top down in any culture and in any business,” he explained. “It really has to come from the bottom up. If you have drivers who understand the technology, how it works, and how it benefits the driver and have those individuals work with the other drivers to really create that mind-set for others, that it is a good thing and not necessarily a bad thing.”

Fakkema further stressed that education is key for drivers when interacting with enforcement officers.

“That initial contact – when it’s just the driver and it’s just the enforcement person on the side of the road – I don’t think there’s enough focus placed on how that transaction takes place,” he noted. “That’s the important piece. That’s where it all happens.”

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