The pages of a driver's logbook get little in the way of respect. Drivers openly mock the documents by calling them "comic books," whether they are referring to ways the Hours-of-Service data can be m...
The pages of a driver’s logbook get little in the way of respect. Drivers openly mock the documents by calling them “comic books,” whether they are referring to ways the Hours-of-Service data can be manipulated or how the simple slip of a pencil might lead to a fine from an overzealous enforcement officer. Even the Canadian Trucking Alliance has called the approach to recordkeeping nothing less than “antiquated.”
Maybe there should be little surprise that a growing number of fleets have abandoned the documents altogether.
Molson Coors Canada’s Ontario fleet adopted electronic logbooks about four years ago, and Steve Ropp would never think of going back to their paper counterparts. “There’s no doubt in my mind that it pays for itself,” says the distribution manager who oversees a private fleet of 34 power units and 80 slip-seating drivers. The ongoing tracking and review of paper log sheets was a cumbersome task at best, but with the click of a mouse, the fleet’s planners now have direct access to specific truck locations and every driver’s available Hours-of- Service.
It would be hard to disagree with the suggestion that the paperwork represents an administrative burden. Drivers probably spend anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes a day filling out the daily log sheets and tracking every change in duty status with the lines on a graph. “Electronic logs are doing a lot of the logging for them. That frees up driving time,” says Jamie Williams, president of PeopleNet Canada.
“What happens if I give a driver two-and- a-half hours a week back to them? Can they drive more hours? Can they rest more? You can add a whole lot more miles to a truck and to a driver’s pocket,” agrees Mike Ham, vice-president of Shaw Tracking. After years of asking drivers to assume new responsibilities, this is one of the few examples of something that will actually remove a task from the list, he adds. “They really just want to drive and the company wants them to drive.”
The returns on the investment may not end there.
Williams, for example, cites research that fleets with electronic logs tend to be safer than their counterparts, recording about 44% fewer out-of-service vehicles and 65% fewer moving violations. Some of the difference may reflect the fact that the early adopters of the technology may be more progressive and safety conscious than their counterparts. But the fleets are also recording 66.7% fewer out-of-service drivers, some of which may be the result of nothing more than reduced errors in the paperwork. “If a driver has missed something by mistake, even wrote something by mistake – and it’s simple to do -that’s a compliance issue,” he says.
Every sheet of paper also represents an administrative cost around auditing, submitting and purging the related data. Fleets that outsource the work can pay as much as $15 to $30 per month to process a single driver’s paper logbook.
“Right now, a fleet of my size has no less than one person feeding manually scripted log sheets through a log reader system,” agrees Mark Seymour, president and CEO of Kriska, an Ontario-based fleet with about 400 power units, 50 of which are now equipped with electronic logs.
Aside from reducing these costs, the added information from an electronic logbook could help a fleet to improve overall productivity. “If I have a better planning tool that I can push into my operations team … I’m going to have a better tool for on-time delivery, customer satisfaction,” Ham explains. “But if there is a paper exercise, there is absolutely no visibility to the planning and operations team as to what is happening right now. You’re at the hands of what the driver is telling you or what you are seeing through updates to telematics. A lot of it is on a wing and a prayer.”
With the digital tools in place, dispatchers who hear about an unexpected load can determine exactly how many hours that drivers have available. The real-time view can even help to eliminate service delays that are caused when drivers run out of allowable driving hours.
The technology behind the systems has come a long way in a short period of time. Look no further than the experience at Molson Coors. The fleet’s first generation of electronic logs required drivers to download the data from a card whenever they returned to a fleet yard. That was replaced by a solution that delivered data over an analog signal which offered sporadic service and relatively slow downloads. The digital system introduced three years ago is the fastest of all.
In some respects, today’s electronic logbooks are all built on a similar infrastructure: a mobile communications device is coupled with a GPS and data from an electronic control module, while information about duty status and work history is shown on an in-cab display. But there are questions to be asked when comparing the options.
When comparing one system to the next, Molson Coors’ Ropp suggests that it is important to establish how frequently any data will be downloaded. “You want as much data as you can get,” he explains, “and normally there is a fee every time you want to access that data.” While the fleet initially downloaded the data every eight hours, more frequent downloads makes it possible to track a truck, observe a driver’s status and send a message to reroute the load in a couple of minutes.
Brad Aitken, TransCore’s business development director, has some other questions. First of all, how is the driver’s status communicated to dispatchers? The systems can use everything from satellite signals to cell or WiFi connections. And how accurate is the GPS? This will play a role in whether the system can validate the city or town where the driver is located. For that matter, how is the driver’s status validated in real-time with the truck’s actual activity? This will be important when someone is booking time in a sleeper berth while a co-driver moves the truck down the highway. “How are violations highlighted?” he adds. “What type of audit and management reports are available from the system?”
Ham also refers to the need to ask about the customer support that will be provided for everyone from the drivers to the operations team. Most suppliers suggest that it takes less than an hour to teach a driver how to learn an in-cab interface, but someone will still need to address any questions. “You’re asking me to take a leap of faith,” he says. “And what happens to my [software] application? Will it live on? Do I have to upgrade my hardware?” In addition to that, there will be a need to be sure that the supplier recognizes all of the related compliance issues. There are differences in the regulations between Canada, the US and areas north of the 60th Parallel.
Like any technology on a truck, there will be ongoing costs involved, but those have dropped dramatically. “Our offerings now are probably less than most fleets pay on their cellphone bills,” Williams says as an example. An onboard system that taps into an engine’s J1708 communications interface, delivering live information from the truck and driver alike, costs about $60 to $70 per month per user.
But there is one other cost that fleets still need to consider – even if it may be asked behind closed doors.
“Introduction of electronic logs require fleets to operate within the HOS regulations, which may reduce mileage driven and impact fleet costs on certain lanes,” Aitken admits. “Many drivers are reluctant to use electronic logs as it may require additional layovers or reduced income … drivers will require training and need to realize the benefits to the entire industry with better safety records.”
Drivers would certainly lose the chance to alter a logbook to reclaim something like the one-and-a-half hours of driving time that are lost while stuck in a traffic jam. “Most people, if honest, would admit ‘I’d do the same thing,'” Seymour says. “The traditional truck driver paid by the mile is faced with these situations and e-logs are taking that away.” Still, his flee
t is taking the steady march toward electronic logs. “Inevitably it’s the way of the future, so why not be ahead of the curve as opposed to being behind it?”
The onset of CSA 2010 safety records in the US is already putting an added focus on Hours-of-Service, and assigns the maximum number of points to fatigue-related issues. Logbook violations will quickly reach allowable thresholds as a result. That will make accurate Hours-of-Service data more important than ever.
And it is expected to be only a matter of time before every fleet has to use the devices.
“We do it because it’s the right thing to do,” adds Seymour. “If it saves accidents, if it saves bumpers, if it saves lives, if it saves time, then that’s the residual benefit of all this.”