ELDs on a smartphone: smart or not?

by Sandy Johnson

With a smartphone, you don’t have to wonder about anything anymore. All the answers are at your fingertips.

How tall was John Wayne? 6 foot 3. Who won the 1942 World Series? The St. Louis Cardinals.

No discussion, no arguments, no fun.

But you know what smartphones aren’t always good at? Phone calls.

You can make the same comparison between an electronic logging device (ELD) and a full-blown fleet management system.

ELDs are intended to do one thing: track the driver’s activity so it’s easier to comply with hours-of-service rules.

A fleet management system is focused on the vehicle’s activity. For many fleets, these sophisticated tools are indispensable for running the whole business, from dispatch to compliance to maintenance to billing.

Can a fleet management system include an ELD?

Sure. Many fleet management systems now have ELD functions that meet FMCSA requirements. Since the fleet management system has hardware and software on board for monitoring the truck, it’s not a huge leap to use the same basic technology to record driving time, location, and other data about the driver.

But some people just need the ELD.

What could be simpler than logging HOS on a smartphone? It makes sense because the device stays with the driver, which is what the HOS legislation is written to track.

Well, the smartphone, as amazing as it is, has some limitations as an ELD. Here are some things to consider:

• Does it meet the ELD standard? FMCSA makes it crystal clear that requirements for an ELD on a smartphone are the same as a dedicated device, including the fact that it has to sync up with the engine control module to automatically record engine power status, vehicle motion status, and other data.

• What if something happens to the phone? If your ELD lives on your phone, you need to understand the consequences of moving the truck when your phone is dead because you forgot a charging cable, dropped it on the pavement, or left it at home.

• As a fleet owner, should you supply the phone? If the driver supplies his own device, and it functions as his ELD, he’s responsible for making sure that the bill is paid and the data plan can accommodate all the information the device needs to capture and communicate.

• Can you take ELD data from your smartphone app and use it for IFTA and IRP? HOS and distance-based tax reports are very different. One focuses on the driver, the other on the truck. IFTA requires licensees to preserve all records used to create quarterly tax returns and/or annual tax returns for four years from the tax return due date or filing date, whichever is later. IRP requires fleets to preserve records for three years after the close of the registration year. If you also use GPS data for IRP licensing, you’re obligated to keep it for five-and-a-half years.

Most people don’t keep a smartphone for that long. Where is all that distance data kept? How do you get it when the IFTA auditor calls?

• Everyone has an app on their phone that they never open because it’s buggy and the developer isn’t around to support it. An ELD is too important to fall into that category.

Beware of opportunists looking to cash in on desperate truckers.

Before you ask Siri which app is best, review the ELD rule at www.FMCSA.dot.gov and talk to the service bureaus that handle your logbooks or IFTA and IRP filings for advice.

Just make sure you have good cell reception when you call.


Sandy Johnson has been managing IFTA, IRP, and other fleet taxes for more than 25 years. She operates FleetTaxPro.com, which provides vehicle tax and licence compliance services for trucking operations. She can be reached at 1-877-860-8025 or www.FleetTaxPro.com.

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  • Great points here Sandy, the market has been swarmed with new ELD vendors looking to scoop up market share with non compliant “solutions”. When carriers are doing their due diligence, it is important to look at all the angles including the reputation of the provider and how long they have been selling fleet management technology. Omnitracs for example has been around for many years and is a industry leader in fleet management products including its Omnitracs XRS mobile solution. XRS customers get more than a smart phone app, they also receive a web portal to manage their company, online training for managers and drivers as well as multiple plan and term options to meet the varied needs of trucking companies.

    Don’t let mobile based ELD’s scare you, after all we all have a smart phone right? #costsavings

  • My vie into this is if a company is hiring me to drive their unit they should have the ELD installed already in the unit, and they would train me as to use it.
    Did use ELD three years ago and it give me a sense of being totally legal if inspected for work performed.
    I am from the hold way but now it is much more easier to work.

  • Hi. My company is trying to make us use an app for electron logs. They are not paying us to use our phones. Is this legal to do? I thought the company who owns the truck is suppose to supply the electronic logs? Not tell the drivers to put app on my phone and use it that way and reimburse us for using our phone.