MONTREAL, Que. – Are enforcement officers in Quebec shunning electronic hours-of-service logs?
That’s the message some fleets are receiving; a message that threatens to disrupt the widespread adoption of electronic on-board recorders for the tracking of driver hours-of-service. However, Arnold Yetman, carrier enforcement officer, Control Routier Quebec, insists carriers are welcome to use electronic logs in Quebec, as long as the systems fully comply with federal guidelines. And the Quebec Trucking Association has received recent assurance that carriers can use EOBRs for hours-of-service recording, provided the systems meet the regulatory criteria.
“They are accepted if they meet the regulatory requirements,” Yetman told Truck News. (See related story, pg 15 for list of requirements). “It’s that simple. If they don’t meet the regulatory requirements, they will get fined.”
But tell that to Jim Harris, fleet safety manager for Total Logistics Group, which has recently equipped its fleet with Shaw Tracking’s electronic logging system – a system that was designed to meet the regulatory requirements of any jurisdiction. He told Truck News his company recently received a $956 fine for, in his words, “allowing a commercial vehicle on the road without a logbook.”
The driver, Harris says, was pulled in for inspection by an enforcement officer who was not familiar with e-logs. The driver first offered to provide a paper copy of the records by faxing the documents to the inspector’s office, however after some consideration the officer reportedly said a fax wouldn’t suffice. The driver, who had a paper logbook with him, then offered to update it to match what was displayed by the EOBR, but the officer told him he had to update his logbook before leaving the terminal, according to Harris.
“He said he’d never seen this kind of thing before and it was not accepted in Quebec,” Harris recalled. “I’ve hired a lawyer and I’m waiting for my court date.”
Truck News has also heard from a motor coach company that has twice been charged with failing to provide paper logs, even though the company says its Webtech Wireless system meets the federal requirements. They have a court date scheduled to dispute the charges on March 24.
Meanwhile, Bessette & Boudreau, a 100-truck fleet out of St-Hyacinthe, Que. recently began installing Shaw Tracking systems in all its tractors, with the intention of automating their hours-of-service. But Yves Letarte told Truck News the carrier heard reports SAAQ was not accepting e-logs at all, causing B&B to second guess its investment.
“We were in the process of installing the Shaw Tracking units in our fleet,” Letarte said. “We were told by Shaw Tracking that when the officer asks for the logs, we could hand him the screen that we had in the truck for him to see the log. Maybe that’s not enough, maybe we will have to print the log? That would be quite expensive, to have printers in the trucks.”
Not to mention counterproductive. Geoff Wood is the Canadian Trucking Alliance’s resident EOBR expert and a member of the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators (CCMTA) EOBR working group. That group laboured over the creation of an EOBR protocol for enforcement agencies across the country, aimed at harmonizing how inspectors from various regions accept, view and interpret electronic logs.
The CCMTA’s policy recommends that inspection officers first try to interpret the logs via the device’s display screen, which is usually attached by cord to the dash so it can be handed out the window to an officer. Failing that, the CCMTA’s policy suggests inspection officers allow the driver to fax the records to the scale house, where they can be viewed in printed form.
“Those are the options that are available and for the most part, it’s working,” said Wood. “In Quebec, there are some issues and there seems to be some confusion about whether or not the enforcement folks should be accepting the CCMTA policy. There seems to be a bit of a disconnect between the policy folks and the enforcement folks.”
A disconnect may also exist within the ranks of the enforcement folks themselves.
While Harris said his driver was informed he could not update his paper logbook during the inspection, Yetman told Truck News that it would be acceptable for a driver with e-logs to bring a paper logbook with him and update it at the request of an inspection officer in order to provide a paper copy. However, he also said such decisions are at the discretion of the agent on duty.
Since enforcement inconsistencies were first identified in a Trucknews.com article March 4, a meeting was held between stakeholders including suppliers, the SAAQ, carriers and the QTA. SAAQ confirmed at the meeting that EOBRs that comply with the federal regulations are, in fact, to be accepted by enforcement officers. The agency also suggested drivers carry with them 14 days worth of blank paper logs, so they can duplicate the EOBR logs on paper upon request.
QTA president Marc Cadieux chalked the whole series of events up to a misunderstanding between policymakers and the enforcement folks on the front lines.
“I would call it a lack of communication,” Cadieux said. “I would say it’s more that maybe the word did not get out as clearly as it should have on the ground.”
“We had quite a good discussion,” Cadieux said of the March meeting.
“It lasted close to three hours. The enforcement agents had a little bit of difficulties with their fax capabilities at the beginning and that is almost solved. There has been progress.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, the SAAQ promised to remind enforcement officers that electronic logs from compliant systems are acceptable and the QTA communicated the same message to its members. The latest discussions should put to bed the widely-held belief that the SAAQ was reluctant to accept e-logs because charges for violations have little chance of holding up in court when they’re not backed by paper-based evidence.
“I think it’s more of a miscommunication,” Cadieux said.
Most systems from leading suppliers, it should be noted, have the ability to send paper records to a fax machine at the touch of a button.
“A lot of times if we get the fax and everything is there and it’s all within the law, we will probably give the person a break,” Yetman says. “But we’re not always near a control station, sometimes we’re doing it from our car and we have no printer.”
Kate Rahn, director of operations with Shaw Tracking, says the conflicting messages coming from Quebec have not been good for EOBR sales in the province.
“We don’t have a lot of fleets in Quebec that are using electronic logs,” Rahn says. “But this whole thing has put a halt on anything our sales guys were doing in Quebec.”
The CTA’s Wood, however, doesn’t think complications in Quebec will slow the widespread adoption of electronic logs, which continues to gain momentum across Canada and the US.
“I’d say it’s isolated but it’s something that needs to get addressed,” Wood said of enforcement challenges in Quebec. “It’s only a matter of time before the issue is resolved in Quebec. Is this seen as something that’s going to derail the whole process? I’d say no.”
And Total Logistics’ Harris agrees, noting the benefits of moving to electronic logs far outweigh the occasional enforcement-related hassle.
He continued using EOBRs to track driver hours, despite the risk of further fines.
“I still think it’s the way to go,” Harris said. “I still see benefits. I’m hoping they become mandatory for everybody. If everybody was using it, everybody would win.”
Harris said the system allows him to keep on top of driver hours daily rather than waiting for his weekly audits (which were outsourced) to uncover discrepancies.
“I monitor them daily instead of finding mistakes at the end of the week when we’re auditing them,” Harris said. “I have 100 guys here and it was impossib
le to stay on top of them. I can do them daily now in about an hour.”
It now seems unlikely that the court will rule against Total Logistics, but if it does, Harris says he won’t give up his e-logs without a fight.
“You can bet I’ll go out kicking and screaming, that’s for sure.”