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e-logical?

They are all names for the same rose: paperless driver logs, electronic logs, e-logs or even electronic on-board recorders (EOBR). Any fleet in Canada or the United States can legally replace their pa...


They are all names for the same rose: paperless driver logs, electronic logs, e-logs or even electronic on-board recorders (EOBR). Any fleet in Canada or the United States can legally replace their paper log books with e-logs right now, and thousands of trucks already have the technology in their on-board computers that will let them make the switch.

The Cadec Corporation, headquartered in Londonderry, New Hampshire, provides an electronic Department of Transport (DoT) log functionality with every Mobius TTS Mobile Information System it sells for trucks. It is entirely up to each client fleet whether they use this function or stick with paper log books. Cadec provides an interactive computer training presentation with lots of graphics, so that drivers will know exactly what they are going to see on the Mobius screen, and how to use the e-log functions, before they hop in the cab.

The PeopleNet Communications Corp., headquartered in Chaska, Minnesota, sells an e-log application called eDriver Logs for its G3 on-board computing system. It costs US$7.50 a month. “At pre-determined intervals the on-board computer will deliver the information to the PeopleNet Network Operations Center. The EOBR data piggybacks on other data, so there are no extra communication costs, as long as it is set at the same intervals as the current communications plan,” explains PeopleNet vice president of marketing and product planning Brian McLaughlin.

As for industry acceptance, the oft-repeated story is that far more private fleets than for-hire fleets use e-logs. “We have signed over 1,200 customers and have over 50,000 units on our network. Approximately 70% of our private fleets use eDriver Logs. It is closer to 20-30% adoption for our for-hire fleets, although 80-90% have expressed interest,” says McLaughlin.

Confidentially, and more to the point, others point out that private fleets do not have to worry about scaring away drivers paid by the hour. Too, they are reportedly more sensitive to the bad publicity that comes with violations by trucks with their company names plastered all over them. For-hire fleet drivers, on the other hand, make their daily bread by the mile and there is a fear that drivers who cannot fudge their log books will look elsewhere for work.

“The industry is not going to be motivated to do this unless it is mandatory. What is in it for the drivers?” is how Cancom vice president Mike Ham phrases the issue. Cancom, headquartered in Mississauga, Ont., sells the OmniTRACS platform, and provides tracking and messaging services.

There has been little demand for e-logs in Canada and most carriers will only adopt e-logs when it becomes mandatory, according to Cancom. Ham says, “We expect the leaders in the industry across Canada to set the standards and adopt early.” Last July, for example, Cancom Tracking announced that Frito-Lay Canada had switched to e-logs as part of a fleet management system it purchased from Cancom/ QA; QA Technologies is a Canadian mobile solutions company for the transportation industry.

The benefits of e-logs appear compelling, but what carriers are said to fear is any sort of competitive disadvantage. “Over the past year both the Canadian Trucking Association and the American Trucking Associations have come out in support of mandatory electronic logs. Part of the reason is that they want everyone to be on a level playing field,” says Ham.

Vendors tout multiple advantages to using e-logs, starting with ease of use. The driver launches his application at the beginning of his trip or day with an access code and log-on name, and selects his status: off-duty, sleeper, driving or on-duty. The e-log is tied in with the on-board computer’s Global Positioning System, clock, engine monitoring and even back office applications like payroll.

Every time the driver changes his duty status he notes it with the keypad, although the application automatically starts the clock after the truck moves a pre-set number of meters or goes above a certain speed. Throughout the shift the e-log keeps a running tally of the elapsed time on each duty status, calculates time remaining and generates a graphic that looks like a page out of a paper log.

To accommodate different state, provincial and federal Hours of Service (HoS) regulations, a fleet can program the e-log application to operate under the rules that best fit a driver’s trip. The e-log operates accordingly; e.g., warning its driver of an impending end of available driving time.

“If the driver drives the same truck as on the previous shift, his log will be on board,” says McLaughlin. “Drivers’ logs must be stored in the on-board computer for eight days – 14 in Quebec – so as to be immediately available for roadside inspection. If the driver changes trucks, his log information will wirelessly follow him from truck A to truck B.

There are several options, all wireless, for getting e-log data back to the office: Data can be transmitted when a truck is in range (just under a half-kilometre) of its fleet’s Local Area Network, even if several days have passed; the Cadec Mobius, for example, stores 96 megabytes of data in the truck, including the last seven days worth of logs.

A Wide Area Network (WAN); i.e., cellular carrier, is a step up in coverage and transmission frequency, providing quasi real-time coverage. “This is quasi-real time, whenever the truck is within WAN coverage. There are cell companies that offer unlimited [connectivity] for US$10 a month,” says Cadec executive vice president Tom Lemke; connection time need not be a significant cost.

Satellites provide the most reliable and extensive coverage. Any of these three options can be combined, according to Lemke.

When e-log data is being transmitted regularly back to the office, dispatchers can more efficiently and accurately manage drivers. “Say you have a load that takes seven hours. In a pre-EOBR world, you’d have to call your drivers and see who had seven hours available. Now the dispatcher has a report in front of him that shows each driver’s available driving time and his location,” says McLaughlin.

He adds, “The second benefit is the absence of paper. You have to mail paper, scan it, review it … 20-30% of logbooks result in questions. There is an ongoing interaction process between the back office and drivers that is incredibly inefficient. With G3, every time the back office and truck system talk, the back office system logs are updated.”

Lemke likes how e-logs so easily demonstrate compliance with Hours of Service regulations. “All of the data matches, so if you are audited, and, say, the auditor is looking for dissimilarities between the payroll and driver logs; for example, whether he has paid out for more hours than the driver said he drove, you will survive the audit very nicely.”

Lemke sees acceptance of e-logs as only increasing, even if their use does not become mandatory: “I think the industry reluctance is shrinking, because the pain of not meeting regulatory requirements is increasing.”


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