Last Friday, FMCSA reminded affected motor carriers and commercial truck drivers of the upcoming deadline to be using ELDs and pointed them to the current list of self-certified ELD products; as of Fri., Sept. 9, there are 10 products on that list.

And then there were 10: Why self-certify ELDs now?

Sept. 8, 2016
FMCSA reminded affected carriers and truck drivers last week of the upcoming deadline to start using ELDs, pointing to the list of self-certified products. Are these products really compliant?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reminded affected carriers and truck drivers last week of the upcoming deadline to start using electronic logging devices, or ELDs, and pointed to the list of providers who've self-certified that their ELD products meet the necessary requirements. Though it's nearly seven months since companies could join that list, only 10 have, with long-established driver e-logging system providers still absent.

Actually, make that nine providers — looking at the list as of today, you'll see one company, Wireless Links, has registered two different ELD product models. Another ELD company Fleet Owner has spoken with in the past, KeepTruckin, recently added its product as No. 8 on the slowly growing self-cert list, standing out as a more well-known player thus far.

Fleet Owner caught up with Shoaib Makani, founder and CEO of KeepTruckin, to talk about some of the concerns that've come up and are holding back others from self-certifying their ELD products. We asked what's different — and why now?

Are they even compliant?

Since FMCSA already is directing carriers and drivers to the self-certified list to check out ELD products, it does, as the saying goes, beg the question: are these products actually compliant? All the self-certified ELD products have user manuals available for download via FMCSA's list site, and it's a good place to start looking.

Ranging from five to 60 pages or so, some of the manuals note particular requirements and provisions of the ELD final rule: A driver having to approve edits that a carrier makes to that driver's logs, for instance, or how to handle special driving times such as personal conveyance or yard movement. Providing driver log information to enforcement officers who might request it is another example.

Some don't mention those things at all — not a particularly encouraging sign.

Having downloaded and checked through the manuals posted to date, one thing did stand out for the KeepTruckin ELD right out of the gate. On the first page, there's a note: "Important: Per FMCSA rules, this guide must be kept in the vehicle at all times." That's not mentioned in any of the others except for the one from Gorilla Fleet Safety — the second company to have added its ELD to the list some time ago — where there's a note at the end of the succinct, five-page instruction guide to keep a copy "with each driver."

It's not that the note itself is a requirement of the manual, per se, but its wording and placement in the KeepTruckin manual seemed an interesting detail. Sure enough, see the ELD final rule under part 395.22, "Motor carrier responsibilities—In general," paragraph H, "In-vehicle information":

A motor carrier must ensure that its drivers possess onboard a commercial motor vehicle an ELD information packet containing the following items: (1) A user's manual for the driver describing how to operate the ELD.

The rule goes on to specify that there must also be an instruction sheet explaining the ELD's information transfer mechanisms and how to report ELD malfunctions, as well as at least eight days' worth of blank driver log sheets, in the commercial motor vehicle — which is not necessarily "with the driver."   

Information FMCSA has not yet released

Alright, we're game. One of the issues that's come up regarding ELD self-certification is that FMCSA has not yet specified the web address, or URL, for transferring necessary driver log info to authorized enforcement officials at the roadside through online "web services." It's just one of the possible transfer methods outlined in the final rule; web services transfer also includes emailing the info, or it can be delivered via Bluetooth and USB 2.0 connectivity. Another transfer option is a standardized printout or display on a screen.

Regarding the web services URL for information transfer, "FMCSA has not yet identified the endpoint that you're supposed to post a file to, but we've done everything, literally, up until the variable that we have to fill in when they tell us where it needs to be posted," Makani tells Fleet Owner.

"It's one line of code that would have to be updated to essentially post a file to that endpoint," he says. "We've done all the effort of being able to prepare the actual file programmatically and transmit the file; it's just a matter of where to post it.

"It's trivial from an engineering perspective to go and actually be ready for that," he continues.

Further, Makani contends, a data file requested for any driver using the company's ELD can be produced "at the click of a button." Also, he notes that KeepTruckin is considering another simple workaround option: "Right now, you can email your logs in, and we essentially prepare it like a paper log in PDF format. We've thought about just having a link at the bottom of that that says, 'Need the data file? Here you go.'"

Forthcoming eRODS system

A larger concern with ELD self-certification at this point is FMCSA's own Electronic Record of Duty Status system, or eRODS. Think of it as the agency's reference program that would be used to check (read: audit) through a carrier's driver logs and be sure everything's kosher, showing the correct hours of service available for drivers, accounting for all vehicle movement and so on.

The trouble is, access to eRODS is not yet available. So how can an ELD provider say its product is compliant now without checking its data against eRODS data to be sure?

According to Makani, KeepTruckin believes it has built a product according to the specifications of the ELD final rule, and if eRODS becomes available and says anything different, FMCSA is going to have to change the final rule itself.

"My latest understanding is that they're still working on it," Makani says regarding the eRODS system. "But if the format the FMCSA has identified is the format that will be required and that they are building for, they know what the format is and we know what it is," he continues. "We've been able to map to that. And as long as that remains consistent, we're good on our side; it's really their effort now."

He goes on to put an even finer point on it. "Here's the thing: we know exactly what needs to be built, and we built it as such. All the underlying data requirements are there: we track all the edits, we update the codes, we have the underlying data and the ability to produce the file in the format that they've requested. As we see it, we've done everything that's required from a compliance perspective.

"If the FMCSA now departs from the mandate spec as it relates to the eRODS system, that means they're rewriting the mandate," Makani says. "We're confident we are compliant with that final rule."

Technical nuance: location data

Fleet Owner pressed further regarding one of the trickier elements of ELD compliance: location recording. It's a cross-check for engine hours and distance traveled read from the truck's electronic control module intended to make tampering more difficult, since ELDs are meant to capture all movement of the commercial motor vehicle and track the driver's hours of service.

How do you do that? In the final rule, FMCSA states that an ELD "must have the capability to automatically determine the position of the [commercial motor vehicle] in standard latitude/ longitude. The ELD must obtain and record this information without any external input or interference from a motor carrier, driver or any other person."

So a compliant ELD has to record actual latitude and longitude coordinates, and what's more, ELD records must "resolve latitude and longitude to a place name, as well as the distance and direction to the place name." It's not just coordinates — the ELD has to capture direction and be able to give a place name for where the vehicle is.

Why is all that necessary? FMCSA says specifically that the lat-long coordinates are more useful for computers, while drivers and enforcement officers need an actual place name to make sense of that information. But how will your product do all those things, then, and what if you lose cellular connectivity?

Makani says KeepTruckin's answer was to take all cities with populations over 5,000 that the company's ELD product covers and program them into the ELD itself, so it doesn't need connectivity to tell where the truck is.

"What we did is we said, 'Okay, here's the list of cities and states that we support,' and we created an algorithm that allows us to determine from a lat-long [measurement] that we collect with the GPS module on the ELD exactly the number of miles and the bearing from the closest city and state that exceeds a population threshold of 5,000, which FMCSA stipulated," he explains.  

"We're able to do that without sending that data up to a server and coming back — we can do it entirely offline from the geocode."

Okay, so let's say a driver is operating a truck somewhere in rural America and loses a cell signal, or cell service happens to flicker out for one reason or another. "The driver can continue to operate the vehicle, pull up to a weigh station, and the data file they would transmit and the logs they present initially would have that reverse-geocoded city and state so that the driver is in full compliance," Makani tells Fleet Owner.

"If we didn't have that ability, the driver technically would not be in compliance," he notes. "They would have the lat-long value, but they wouldn't have the human-readable city and state. And an officer could say, 'You know what? This is not acceptable.' So in that sense, we protect the driver even if there's a loss of cellular connectivity."

Compliant products and who's exempt

Those were some of KeepTruckin's answers to ELD requirements, and the company has also written more about the various points of compliance on its website. Makani contends those points ought to be "a threshold" whereby "you can't say you're a compliant ELD provider unless you do all these things."

It's a good thing to aware of when FMCSA sends out a reminder of the upcoming Dec. 17, 2017 deadline to be using an ELD and points to the list of registered products. Also, if you're using an electronic driver logs system that complies with older standards for Automatic On-Board Recording Devices, or AOBRDs, by the deadline, you get an automatic two-year extension through Dec. 17, 2019 to be using an ELD-compliant product in your trucks.

Know also what an ELD is in the most basic sense. You'll find that language in the final rule as well: "By definition, an ELD means a device or technology that automatically records a driver's driving time and facilitates the accurate recording of the driver's HOS," or hours of service.

Broadly, drivers who are now required to keep paper records of duty service will be required to use ELDs. There are exceptions for drivers who keep paper logs for no more than eight out of every 30 days as well as driveaway-towaway vehicle drivers where the commercial vehicle is actually part of a shipment. And if your commercial truck is older than model year 2000, you're also exempt, since those vehicles likely don't have the necessary electronic control module and/or ECM functionality needed for an ELD.

But guess what: even if you do have such an older commercial truck and happen to decide you'd like to use an ELD — though that's not likely a very large population — FMCSA covered that as well. In the absence of an ELD-capable electronic control module in the truck, "vehicle miles can be derived from either engine or dash odometer" for the ELD as long as the data meets accuracy requirements spelled out in the final rule.

And as a final-final word, there are still legal challenges — from which there should be updates in the next few weeks — to the ELD mandate that could threaten its implementation before it ever begins.

About the Author

Aaron Marsh

Before computerization had fully taken hold and automotive work took someone who speaks engine, Aaron grew up in Upstate New York taking cars apart and fixing and rewiring them, keeping more than a few great jalopies (classics) on the road that probably didn't deserve to be. He spent a decade inside the Beltway covering Congress and the intricacies of the health care system before a stint in local New England news, picking up awards for both pen and camera.

He wrote about you-name-it, from transportation and law and the courts to events of all kinds and telecommunications, and landed in trucking when he joined FleetOwner in July 2015. Long an editorial leader, he was a keeper of knowledge at FleetOwner ready to dive in on the technical and the topical inside and all-around trucking—and still turned a wrench or two. Or three. 

Aaron previously wrote for FleetOwner. 

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