Coming through loud and clear

by Sandy Johnson

Do kids still play the party game “telephone”?

That’s the one where everyone lines up and the first person is given a phrase to say, like, “My new dog’s name is Chip.” The message gets passed down by each person whispering in the next person’s ear and by the end of the line it’s been transformed into something completely different, like, “I want ketchup for my chips.”

Right now, it’s no party for Canadians trying to understand the U.S. ELD rules.

FMCSA issued a number of exemptions. Enforcement officials delayed penalizing carriers and drivers for ELD-related out-of-service violations until April 1. Drivers, ELD suppliers, and roadside inspectors all have tangled grapevines of misinterpretations.

Someone has to get the facts straight about ELDs, and fleets are counting on their compliance managers. If that’s you, where do you start? Here are a few steps you can take.

1. Don’t wait. When push comes to shove, your company’s job is to move freight. If you have to turn down loads to the U.S. because you didn’t know the ELD rule applied to you, it will affect your bottom line. Answer the “do we or don’t we?” question ASAP.

2. Know your sources. Get to know your “local” FMCSA representatives from the receptionist to the manager. Write down their names, email addresses, and phone numbers. Whether you’re regulated by a federal, provincial, state, or local authority, I promise there is a human being in an office somewhere who can take your call and help you out. Find that person. And then…

3. Trust but verify. Call the office more than once and ask different people the same question. My rule of thumb is to get three different people to give me an answer to the same question especially when I need an interpretation of a rule. It’s a great way to get a balanced view.

4. Get your own facts right. Exemptions to the ELD rule vary with the duty cycle, type of freight being hauled, and age of the truck, among other factors. If you’ve read the 49 CFR 395 regulations ( and still have questions, then come up with a very clear example of what you want to be able to do before you make your call.

“Do we need an ELD?” will elicit a different response than “We’re based in Lethbridge and haul machinery to Fargo once a month. Our driver spends two days a month in the U.S. Will his paper logbook suffice while he’s there?” The more specific, the better. Is that machinery used on a farm? If so, other exemptions may apply.

5. Put your service bureau to work. Service bureaus who specialize in compliance will more than pay for themselves if they can help you prevent mistakes that lead to delays, audits, frustrated drivers, and fines. Just know that a service bureau is counting on you for accurate information about where you run, the distances you travel, what you haul, how many trucks you have, and how those things might change as your company evolves. If you outsource compliance, it’s time to bring your service bureau up to speed.

We are still in the early days of the ELD rollout but you only have between now and April 1 to get the message right. After that, penalties are going to ring through loud and clear. It won’t be a party if you get caught breaking the rules.


Sandy Johnson has been managing IFTA, IRP, and other fleet taxes for more than 25 years. She is the author of the book, 7 Things You Need to Know About Fleet Taxes, and operates, which provides vehicle tax and licence compliance services for trucking operations. She can be reached at 1-877-860-8025 or

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