Buyer beware

by James Menzies

TORONTO, Ont. — Canadian carriers that operate in the US will have until Dec. 18, 2017 to install electronic logging devices (ELDs) for the monitoring of driver hours-of-service. To help carriers find a compliant system, the US Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has created a website listing registered and “self-certified” devices. But it may come as a surprise to fleets that all that’s required to get on that list is to submit documentation claiming to have met all the requirements laid out in a 450-odd page technical standard.

There’s no further proof required.

As of Feb. 8, there were 27 devices listed on the FMCSA’s website. Noticeably absent were the major players, the most recognizable ELD suppliers.

“Our message is going to be buyer beware,” warns Eric Witty, vice-president, product, with PeopleNet. “I think, in general, there will be confusion in the marketplace related to the vendors.”

Tom Cuthbertson, vice-president of regulatory affairs with Omnitracs, agrees.

By the end of this year, Canadian carriers operating in the US must require drivers to electronically log their hours-of-service. Choosing the right device for your fleet is critical.

“It’s a registration process, it’s not a certification process with FMCSA at this time,” he points out. “FMCSA is not vetting anything.”

This is an important consideration for fleets that are shopping around for a compliant ELD platform. A vendor’s appearance on the FMCSA website means only that the company has taken steps to ensure its system complies with the technical standard. If that system is discovered in the future to fall short – whether by FMCSA, enforcement officers or by the end user – the supplier will have a limited time to bring its system into compliance or, if it fails to do so, the fleet will have to replace all its devices and the product will be removed from the website.

Recognizing the risk fleets are exposed to, Canada’s PIT Group has launched a third-party verification service. It’s voluntary for suppliers, who can choose to have PIT engineers verify their compliance and then earn the right to display a PIT-verified logo.

“The reason why we went into offering that service is, fleets were alarmed,” PIT Group director Yves Provencher tells Truck News. “We even had lawyers calling us, saying ‘What can we do to protect our carriers?’ What we will be doing is making sure those 400-odd pages of detail that FMCSA developed will be followed. It will look very much like an audit done by an accounting firm.”

EROAD was the first ELD manufacturer to sign on for PIT’s new service. Provencher says the verification process continues.

“We are developing a methodology as we go with them. They will be the first ones to be verified but it will take a little longer. With other customers – and we already have other customers lined up – it will be faster,” Provencher says. While he wouldn’t say which suppliers are waiting to be third-party verified, Provencher indicated even some of the big players have shown interest.

PIT Group is a not-for-profit organization, so he said it is unlikely other organizations will be able to offer cost-effective third-party validations. Provencher says PIT Group is offering the service to help eliminate confusion in the marketplace and to protect fleets from choosing a non-compliant system. He said a supplier that’s found to be non-compliant has only three weeks to become compliant.

“If not, the carrier needs to find another supplier,” he warns. “Imagine a fleet of 300 or 1,000 trucks that has to change providers in three weeks. That’s quite a nightmare. That’s why the industry is not very enthusiastic about the self-certifying approach.”

One way fleets can protect themselves, suggests Cuthbertson, is to build some protections into a contract with the supplier.

“You’ve got to look at your contract,” he says. “If the vendor’s claiming to be self-certified and fully compliant, and they get challenged and pulled off the FMCSA’s certified list, then you have a situation where you’re going to have to find a replacement and there’s your cost to implement the previous one. Make sure you look at your contracts and the way it’s worded on what the repercussions are if somehow they become uncertified.”

Doing thorough due diligence ahead of time is another important step carriers should take. Among other questions, Cuthbertson suggests asking a potential supplier: How are you following the recommended security aspects identified in the mandate?; How will information be transferred to enforcement at roadside?; And how are you measuring and verifying diagnostics and malfunctions? The FMCSA has posted on its website a full checklist carriers should follow when choosing an ELD.

EROAD recently published a paper outlining further questions fleets should be asking of their potential suppliers, including: What steps have you taken to ensure compliance?; Do you have a substantial number of active subscribers?; Can you offer testimonials from top customers?; Can you document financial stability?; And, will you continue to provide service after the sale?

While carriers may be worried to find their existing provider of choice isn’t yet on the list of verified suppliers, there’s no need to panic. PeopleNet’s Witty tells Truck News his company isn’t rushing to self-certify because FMCSA is still fine-tuning the technical standard and because the company has too much at stake to rush in without ensuring, beyond doubt, that it’s fully compliant.

“For somebody like us, who has been around a long time, we can’t afford to say we’re certified and then have one of our customers get pulled over and get cited because our system isn’t compliant,” Witty reasons. “It would be disastrous, due to the amount of core fleets and large customers that we have.”

An opportunistic supplier that’s new to the industry and may be looking to cash in on the mandate may have less at stake, Witty points out.

“You just have to be cautious about the risk you’re taking with people that are just looking to make a quick buck off the high demand that a mandate causes,” he says.

Carriers have the option of choosing an existing product – today’s currently available devices that don’t yet comply with the ELD standard are referred to as automatic onboard recording devices (AOBRDs) – and will be able to continue using those systems until December 2019. Most current generation AOBRDs will require only a software update to become ELD-compliant, so it’s unlikely a fleet will have to swap out all its hardware to comply with the new standard in two years. However, one pitfall to adopting an AOBRD today is that a fleet may then have to deal with the nuances of two different systems and sets of rules as new trucks with compliant ELDs are added to the fleet.

No grandfather clause will be offered for AOBRDs installed after Dec. 18, 2017.

“Any fleet that is purchasing vehicles on a regular basis is going to be put in a really challenging position,” Witty explains. “If you’re going to run ELDs and you’re going to run it side by side with AOBRDs, it could be an interesting thing to manage two different systems with two different experiences for your users. Anybody that is refreshing their fleet regularly may be forced to adopt (ELDs) early just so all your drivers are experiencing the same thing and your training and everything can be streamlined.”

For fleets that are holding out and hoping the seemingly regulation-loathing president of the US, Donald Trump, squashes the mandate, sparing them the cost and time needed to comply, don’t hold your breath, suppliers say.

“It seems like the momentum at this point in time is that you better plan on it happening, because there’s nothing that’s pointing to it being shut down,” Witty says of the ELD mandate.

Cuthbertson agrees. “From both FMCSA and the actions that president Trump has taken recently, I don’t see anything in there that’s going to derail the mandate,” he says. “This regulation was issued in December of 2015. As we stand right now, we’re only about 11 months away from full compliance. I don’t see things right now from the administration in Washington that would derail this regulation.”

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  • If you’re in the process of evaluating different ELD providers but are unsure if they’ll be compliant come the deadline you should request a written letter. Omnitracs, for example, provides is customers with a ‘ELD Compliance Guarantee Letter” that specifically states that their products will be ELD compliant. If a provider isn’t willing to put that in writing why would you ever feel confident in their product?

    Omnitracs has the mobile XRS platform that has no upfront costs and starts at $23 per truck per month. Definitely worth exploring if you still need to adopt and do not want to break that bank!