GPS gems of wisdom

by Sandy Johnson

My mother always had gems of wisdom to share, and one I still carry with me today is, “The more you have, the more you have to look after.”

She was right. All the great conveniences we have now—from cars to toasters—take a lot of care and elbow grease to keep sparkling and maintained.

This wisdom goes hand in hand with the myth that technology makes everything easier.

Computers, cellphones, and connected devices can make life better, but they can also make it complicated. I can hear the collective sigh of truck drivers across the continent pining for the days of handwritten driver logs.

The same goes for GPS data and IFTA reporting.

When I started in the business of reporting fuel taxes, everyone handed in some sort of written trip report from their drivers. Most of our customers used a standardized “trip envelope” where drivers could put receipts when they would fuel up. The process was simple to follow and created a uniform method of gathering information for data entry.

Not anymore.

While GPS data may be standard, the collection and interpretation of that data for tax reporting and compliance is not. And because the volume of data generated by GPS is so large, the information can be difficult to manage if you don’t have the experience or knowledge. Even those of us who have used electronic data for fleet tax reporting for years will occasionally struggle with data sets provided by the plethora of fleet management and now ELD vendors out there.

Do not be fooled into thinking that having GPS will solve all your IFTA problems. Used correctly, electronic time and distance data from GPS-enabled devices is a vast improvement over handwritten records. But there are limitations. Number one, do you understand how your GPS data is used by your fleet management or ELD vendor? And number two, can you defend the use of the data in case of an audit?

If you can’t answer yes to both questions, then you should still be using handwritten trip reports for IFTA reporting until you learn how the pieces fit together.

Let’s say you are one of the “lucky” people chosen for an IFTA audit and you’ve been using the summary reports from your ELD vendor to report your IFTA. Here’s what is going to happen.

The IFTA auditor will ask you to provide original GPS data points to back up your claim. Where is that raw data? Do you store three years of GPS data points yourself, or do you have to go back to your ELD vendor and ask them for it? Is the ELD vendor going to charge you to gather up that data, and if so, how much? One IFTA auditor reported that it was less expensive for the company he audited to pay the IFTA tax, penalty, and interest than it was to pay the vendor’s fee to pull the GPS data he needed.

Let’s say you have the data. Can you prove that what you filed with your IFTA jurisdiction will match what the auditor finds in the data? Will you be able to defend any differences between what the ELD vendor collected, what you reported, and what the auditor finds using the same data set?

It’s important to review the differences between the collection and utilized data used for ELDs and data used for IFTA. The IFTA/IRP Industry Advisory Committees created a handy chart and posted it here: Select “Important Information” and download the “Electronic Logging Device Information” PDF.

“The more you have, the more you have to look after” is just as true for data as it is for anything else. Remember, you are responsible for keeping your IFTA data properly maintained. More importantly, you have to be able to defend it in an audit situation.

Have your say

We won't publish or share your data