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View ELDs as a benefit, not a burden, technology providers say

Dec. 11, 2015
Mandated connections to engine control modules (ECMs) will allow electronic logging devices (ELDs) to provide a wealth of valuable data to fleets – data that can ultimately generate big savings for motor carriers of all sizes.

For fleets that haven’t yet tapped into telematics-linked electronic logging devices (ELDs) – which encompasses roughly a third of the trucking industry, according to one expert – the now-ticking two-year compliance window to install said technology should not be viewed as merely a “burden.”

Rather, according to a cross-section of technology providers, view the ELD final rule as an opportunity to gain critical benefits – especially in terms of data that can ultimately generate significant costs savings for any size of trucking operation.

“The two-year window is absolutely plenty of time to adopt an ELD solution; it’s pretty generous,” Ravi Kodavarti, director of product management for mobile communications at Rand McNally, told Fleet Owner.

“In fact, we’re in a situation now where fleets that haven’t adopted such technology can take advantage of all the improvements we’ve made over the last five years,” he stressed. “These are improvements that have made ELDs less expensive, easier to install, and more intuitive to operate.”

The key, though, is not to wait until the final six months of the “compliance window” to initial an ELD compliance plan, warned Tom Cuthbertson in-house ELD expert and VP of regulatory affairs for Omnitracs LLC.

“That’s when you’re going to pay a premium for the resources and support necessary to get a solution installed in your trucks,” he emphasized to Fleet Owner.

Yet those fleets in need of adopting ELDs need to view the now-imposed mandate to install them as an “opportunity” to generate major cost savings for their operations, stressed Jim Griffin, chief technology officer with truck-leasing provider Fleet Advantage.

“If you don’t view this [mandate] as an opportunity, you are being short-sighted,” he explained to Fleet Owner.

By rule, fleets have to link their ELDs into the engine control module (ECM) on their trucks to accurately record hours of service (HOS) data, Griffin noted; that “link,” however, will also make available lots of other performance data, he pointed out – especially in terms of fuel mileage.

“This [the ELD] will also serve as a platform for obtaining diagnostic data, to improve maintenance response – that’s the next pillar of fleet savings, next to using data to improve fuel economy,” Griffin said.

Omnitracs’ Cuthbertson noted that whether a fleet operates 2,000 or just five trucks, getting data that can be turned into information to help reduce fuel consumption, improve uptime, and lower maintenance costs, will provide an “excellent” return on investment (ROI) metric for fleet adopting ELDs.

“We’ve had many small fleets that adopted ELDs achieve payback on just the fuel savings alone,” he added.

Fleet Advantage’s Griffin stressed, however, that working with a “solid” technology provider is critical to that process. “They can’t be one that’s going to just drop all that data on the table and leave it for you figure it out,” he explained. “Every fleet operates differently and you want a provider that’s going to take that data can create useable information from it to help your specific truck operation save money.”

Omnitracs’ Cuthbertson also believes ELD training won’t be burdensome for trucking companies, either.

“In any group of human beings, you always have the group of early adopters that adapt to a technological change right away versus those that need repeated help to master it,” he explained. “In many cases, fleets need to rely on ‘peer-to-peer’ training – getting that 25% to 30% of ‘early adopters’ among their drivers to help the rest adapt to ELDs.”

Cuthbertson also believes fleets should consider using this “supplemental data” ELDs generate – good fuel mileage, hard braking incidents, over-speeding, etc. – to establish on the one hand driver incentives, such as fuel savings bonuses, and on the other coaching programs to correct bad driving habits before they result in something more serious, such as an accident.

At the end of the day, though, Fleet Advantage’s Griffin stressed that fleets only have a choice over whether they expand their use of ELD technology to gain data that will potentially cut their costs, not whether to adopt ELDs or not.

“It’s a rule now, not a choice,” he emphasized. “It’s a good time to take that incremental technology cost and find ways to generate more benefits from it. But you have to adopt it now, one way or the other.”

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