Tick, Tock: Electronic Logging Devices are coming

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Canadian regulators didn’t waste much time.

A U.S. mandate for Electronic Logging Devices (ELD’s) was just a few hours old on December 18 when federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau announced similar plans for Canada. The rule that applies to federally regulated trucking companies is only a draft at the moment, but it’s likely a foregone conclusion now that cross-border operations have to abandon paper logbooks. Ontario has already announced that it plans to follow the federal lead. Other jurisdictions won’t be far behind.

And like it or not, this technology will transform the business of trucking.

The Hours of Service rules themselves haven’t changed, of course, and there was never any official “wiggle room” when someone was trapped in traffic or delayed at a dock. But we all know that logbooks were tweaked here and there to help drivers reach destinations or return home. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

Electronic Logging Devices will simply be less forgiving than so-called “comic books”, tracking compliance down to the minute.

Indeed, for most operations the switch to an ELD is more about ensuring compliance with the letter of the law rather than actually fighting fatigue. It’s why I have personally struggled with the need to demand the devices outright, even though they offer a way to eliminate costly form and manner violations, and help dispatchers track available driving hours with the click of a mouse. In an ideal world, the tech would be a matter of choice.

But the technology is being pushed on the broader trucking industry because of those who flagrantly ignore limits on driving time, and sign contracts with a wink and a nod despite deadlines that can’t be met within legal Hours of Service rules.

Deals like these have been done on the backs of people who work behind the wheel, and it’s time for these practices to end.

This will be a rude awakening for many shippers as well as the drivers, owner-operators, and fleets that treat Hours of Service limits as an inconvenience. Loads that have been accepted in the past may suddenly be rejected in an era of ELD’s; fleets and owner-operators who take work regardless of timelines could be forced out of business, or (let’s hope) find ways to conform to the rules that apply to everyone else.

Yes, there will still be those who break the rules, and there will undoubtedly be a small industry of programmers looking for new ways to hide the cheating. But it will be tougher for businesses to hide. Much tougher. Even legally running operations will face new challenges as they look to reschedule time-sensitive loads or recover trucks and drivers who run out of available hours.

While others whinge and moan about the approaching rules, this is the time for forward-thinking businesses to prepare for the change. Talk to shippers about extended delays in loading times that can no longer be tolerated as a cost of doing business. Discuss why drivers can’t be forced to leave a yard after unexpected delays if they are out of available driving time. Reconsider any pay structures that compensate drivers only when a wheel physically turns, and find new ways to end journeys on time. Focus lobbying efforts on bids to establish more truck parking for the moments when time runs out. Begin investigating the devices on the market today, and see what your business would need to do to comply.

It is possible to make a living within allowable driving time. Operations that have already adopted ELD’s have shown us that.

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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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