Logbooks fading away as Canada prepares to mandate ELDs

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Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau views an ELD that will track truck driver hours of service
Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau takes a closer look at one of the ELDs that will replace paper logbooks. (Photo: CTA)

TORONTO, Ont. — The news ultimately came later than expected.

Transport Canada announced this month that it will mandate electronic logging devices (ELDs) as of June 2021 – more than three years after the U.S. first required the time-tracking equipment in the place of paper logbooks.

There is still work to do as well. The new rules apply only to federally regulated carriers. Provincial and territorial rules have yet to be unveiled, although transportation ministers for these jurisdictions have already promised to find “harmonized” ground.

While ELDs will already be familiar to cross-border carriers, there will also be a key difference between the devices sold in the U.S. and Canada. Suppliers are responsible for certifying that their ELDs meet U.S. technical standards. Here in Canada, such work will be left to independent third parties.

This difference will “catapult Canada ahead of the U.S. in terms of highway safety and compliance,” said the Canadian Trucking Alliance (CTA), which had been among groups to complain that drivers could manipulate their driving time on some of the weaker systems in the U.S.

“The implementation of tamper-proof, third-party ELD devices will further enhance safety and help ensure all drivers and companies hold themselves to the highest levels of compliance,” added CTA chairman Scott Smith, CEO of the Toronto-based JD Smith and Sons fleet.

Of course, paper logbooks are so prone to tampering that they’ve become known as “comic books”. A shifted line here, or an altogether fake logbook there, and some drivers were able to make it look like they were running legally even when allowable hours of service had already ticked away.

“As we learned from the previous era of paper logbooks, the non-compliant segment of our industry, while a minority, have a history of finding workarounds of the rules. We must ensure that there are no gaps or opportunities to manipulate the technology and that compliance is the only option,” said CTA president Stephen Laskowski. “The objective is to set up a system that’s viable, credible, and will make sure technology is tamper-proof.”

No grandfather clause for AOBRDs

The differences between U.S. and Canadian regulations won’t end there. While the U.S. ELD rollout allows fleets to use pre-existing automatic on-board recording devices (AOBRDs) until this December, there will be no such grandfather period in Canada.

That worries Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (PMTC) president Mike Millian, who believes early ELD adopters could face a disadvantage. “These fleets will have to work with the supplier and hope that the device they purchased can be updated to be third-party certified or replaced with new devices,” he said. To compound matters, details about how the third-party certification will work – or even who will be allowed to certify the devices – have yet to be revealed.

While CTA had originally asked for a grandfathering period, it supports the new federal timelines.

“How can we have grandfathering of non-third-party-certified devices?” Laskowski asked, referring to the challenge of a rollout in two stages.

In the meantime, the CTA is advising fleets to request some form of written guarantee that any newly purchased equipment will be certified by a third party before the regulatory deadline arrives.

Many device suppliers themselves are already applauding the tougher certification process, too.

“Third-party certification will ensure a universal standard for ELD providers and allow regulation to achieve its objective – to make the roads safer,” said Jacques DeLarochelliere, president of Isaac Instruments. “The responsibility for device compliance will lie with those who should be accountable – the suppliers and not the carriers.”

Said federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau: “The two-year implementation period may seem quick for some truck owners, but I want to reassure you that this period will allow them enough time to set up and install the devices.”

Hours of service remain unchanged

Teamsters Canada added its voice to those welcoming the ELD mandate.

“While today’s announcement does not fully address the issue of fatigue in the trucking industry, it at least levels the playing field for companies by finally making drivers’ hours of service rules enforceable,” said union president Francois Laporte.

It’s an important point. The hours of service rules have not changed since 2005. The only difference is the way ELDs track driving time by the minute.

The laser focus on timelines can still present some new challenges, however.

Joe Ament, Home Hardware’s fleet safety and compliance coordinator, refers to the ELD data that 140 drivers recorded over a single week. There were only five violations, and three of those involved driving less than five minutes beyond the allowable duty time, he says.

In the days of paper logbooks, a truck driver who had been at the wheel for 13 hours and five minutes would likely have drawn a line to record 13 hours.

A similar challenge can emerge at the start of a shift. Drivers have been known to log in for work a couple of minutes too soon. The difference between 28 minutes and a half hour can be a violation for driving outside the allowable limits. “Drivers are learning that it’s more important to wait three minutes,” Ament says, noting that fleets should encourage their drivers to record related comments that can be reviewed by enforcement officers.

Home Hardware decided to leap into the era of ELDs well before the Canadian mandate was unveiled, in part because of stories about the challenges faced by U.S. carriers. Introducing the systems turned out to be smoother than expected, but there were still hiccups to address.

Ament, for example, refers to relays that had to be changed to ensure equipment could be installed in the first place. One manufacturer’s choice for a new cable also left ELDs that couldn’t determine if a truck was driving or not. “Sometimes it would just show [drivers] on duty and not driving,” he explains. New cables were also blamed for a situation when an ELD worked in one truck but not its counterpart. Strangely enough, the problem in the latter case involved the truck where the ELD seemed to work. “They couldn’t figure out why it was working.”

A staged rollout helped to limit many struggles, however, giving trainers a chance to tweak their messages before moving to the next distribution center. The first lessons were delivered when drivers were huddled around a few tablets; the next group had the chance to view a projected image. The time devoted to editing the logs increased during each stop.

Admittedly, drivers weren’t happy when Home Hardware first announced the plans. “At first it was kind of horrified and reluctant,” Arment says. “But within a week, drivers were on board with it and love it.”

The only negative comments these days tend to involve a type of range anxiety, as drivers watch their available time tick away before arriving at destinations.

Still, opinions about ELDs can vary widely depending on a driver’s personal experience.

“Drivers have difficulty logging in. Changes of duty status sometimes do not migrate to the mainframe. Log outs or log offs don’t always stick,” says Steve Del Brocco, who drives for a fleet that delivers compressed gases.

He remains unconvinced that the electronic tracking will bring cheating to an end.

“Sympathetic or ‘keep driving anyways’ carriers can simply go in and edit over-hour violation drivers back into legal and compliant,” he says. “Hours of service regulations are ridiculous anyways.”

Darren Anderson, an Ontario-based driver who runs to Colorado once a week, agrees. “They are putting you to bed when you’re not tired. So you sit there, you watch your movie, you wander around the parking lot,” he says. “I feel like I’m being babysat.”

But there are fans, too.

“I can honestly say I get more sleep now, more rest, have less stress than I’ve ever had in the trucking industry,” says Stewart Papke of Fort Macleod, Alta., who hauls cars from the docks in Delta, B.C. “Elogs are simple to use, really a push of a button in the morning and that’s it. You’re off and running.”

“Any critics out there I guess have never used them or just don’t like change.”

Read: 10 Things to Know About Canada’s ELD Mandate

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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking, trucknews.com, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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