ELDs as a time management tool

by Al Goodhall

What if electronic logging devices (ELDs) were used as time management tools rather than enforcement devices? Sure, they would still limit the amount of time you are able to drive each day, but the primary intent of the device would be to improve a driver’s quality of life, enhance safety in his or her workspace, and improve productivity. That sounds a little like magical thinking, doesn’t it?

First, we have to talk a little bit about applying the rules. I don’t mean work-to-rule by industrial action, to reduce output and efficiency by following official working rules and hours; I’m interested in how we follow the rules in terms of simply reporting all on-duty time as on-duty time.

We’ve spent many years reporting a driver’s on-duty time in 15-minute increments while dumping the bulk of the on-duty time we actually do work into the off-duty or sleeper berth categories. This is an ongoing garbage-in/garbage-out scenario (GIGO).

Techopedia.com gives a simple definition of GIGO: the output quality of a system usually can’t be any better than the quality of inputs. That’s exactly where we are at today.

A system based on a pick-up that takes 15 minutes, a delivery that takes 15 minutes, a border crossing that takes 15 minutes, a fuel stop that takes 15 minutes, a pre-trip inspection that takes 15 minutes, and so on. This is actually where the magical thinking lives and it has for the full 20 years that I have worked as a longhaul highway driver.

At some point, we have to stop thinking we can successfully hammer that square peg into a round hole labeled “safety and compliance.” It’s never worked and it’s never going to, especially under the pending universal implementation of ELDs.

As painful as it sounds (and it is) to drivers, the only way to lance this boil is to give the decision makers – the legislators, safety organizations, and mega-carriers – the information they need to make the right decisions for drivers. That means logging all your on-duty time as it happens.

At this point you may be thinking, ‘Goodhall, you’re a dreamer, that’s never going to happen.’ You’re right, but here is what I do know from my experience about applying the rules: It works in my organization.

I log all my on-duty time. If I show up at a delivery and it is a driver assist and I’m working in the trailer for 90 minutes, that’s on-duty. If I sit at the border for two hours, that’s on-duty. If I pick up a full load and it takes three hours to load, I will be on-duty to check in and once I bump the dock and have to wait in my truck until loaded, I go off-duty. Basically, when I work, I log it.

But here’s the catch: I work for a company where executives are licensed and often jump in a truck to do deliveries or switches. They are passionate about trucking and as a result, are close to their drivers and to their customers. We don’t have excessive waiting time or have to deal with “time vampires” feeding on drivers.

Basically, I work for a great carrier that manages its business in a very hands-on manner and is not data-dependent, as so many carriers seem to be these days, thus avoiding the GIGO information trap. Not surprisingly, this model of leadership through integrity allows us to run by the rules, making the data captured by ELDs meaningful to those same hands-on leaders.

So, it’s how our leaders lead that is really at issue when we look at ELDs and ask the question, is it a time management tool or is it an enforcement tool? For me, it has become a tool of empowerment I can use – not a tool used by others to impose control over my day. Believe it or not, this approach makes it easier for me to deal with motor carrier inspectors and police enforcement. When you’re not spending your day trying to appease everyone but yourself, life gets a whole lot easier and you can enjoy what you do.

Life isn’t perfect where I work; we have our challenges. In the high-pressure world of trucking, this is the reality of daily life. What we get right is the understanding that drivers are the focal point of the business, while remaining dependent on every other branch of the company for their individual success and security. It is in this light that the ELD can be used by a driver to manage their time to their benefit rather than view it as a gun that is held to their head to enforce compliance.

Al Goodhall has been a professional longhaul driver since 1998. He shares his experiences via his blog at www.truckingacross  canada.blogspot.com. You can follow him on Twitter at  @Al_Goodhall

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