The Electronic Logging Device Mandate
An ELD in the cab of a truck at the Carlile Transportation Services service shop in Fairbanks
It’s been looming on the horizon for years, and now it’s here: the federal mandate for long-haul truck drivers to use equipment called Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) to track the number of hours they work.
What it means for Alaskan truckers
The mandate comes from a major federal transportation funding bill passed in 2012. Its intent was to reduce truck accidents by holding drivers to restrictions on the number of hours they drive, which in Alaska is a maximum of fifteen driving hours per day and twenty working hours. The new rule has been described as both a major cultural transformation in the trucking industry and as a relatively minor change in record keeping. It’s a big transformation because many truck drivers pride themselves on their independence. Truck drivers in the 49th State have to be especially independent because of the size and remoteness of the state, and truck drivers here have special driving-hour rules that allow them to drive longer days than truckers in the rest of the country. With the mandate, drivers are always being observed and can have their decisions to rest or continue driving second-guessed because they must carry a device that connects to the truck engine and determines if the truck is in motion.
But the mandate can also be seen as a small adjustment because it doesn’t change the underlying rules behind the driving hours, which remain the same as paper logbook days.
As the mandate has gone from concept to law, driver attitudes in Alaska have generally moved from suspicion to acceptance and even to appreciation for the new hour-logging machines, says Aves Thompson, executive director of the Alaska Trucking Association, an organization that’s always supported the new ELD rules.
“Most of the drivers initially were skeptical, but now after using them for a while, you can’t take them away from them if you wanted to. They’ve become accustomed to it and they like it,” Thompson says.
A big reason the devices have become popular with drivers is that the automatic system protects them from having their safety records dinged for paperwork errors. In the paper log days, half the violations were this type of “form and manner” violations, Thompson says.
“That could mean, instead of putting ‘Anchorage, Alaska,’ you only wrote ‘Anchorage.’ That was a violation,” Thompson says. “With the electronic log books, half the Hours of Service violations are gone.”
A computer display shows the location of the Carlile Transportation Services fleet. The location information comes from each truck’s Electronic Logging Device.
The federal deadline to stop using paper logs and start using ELDs or an AOBRD, an older kind of electronic recording device, was more than a year ago in December 2017. But in practice Alaskan truck drivers haven’t yet faced tickets for failing to have the devices, says Thompson.
That’s because although it’s a federal rule, it’s enforced at the state level by the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement division at the state Department of Transportation. As of this fall, the state hadn’t yet adopted the federal regulation, but it was expected to happen by this month.
“Coming soon, to an inspector near you,” Thompson says.
The next deadline facing the industry is December 16, 2019, when the federal government’s ELD rules will further tighten, requiring the grandfathered-in AOBRD users to also switch to ELDs.
ELD rules apply to many, but not all, commercial trucks. One of the main exceptions is for short-haul drivers who operate within a 100-mile radius (a 150 mile-radius for non-CDL drivers). These drivers did not previously have to keep paper hour logs and therefore don’t have to comply with new ELD rules.
What Is an ELD?
From the outside of a tractor trailer parked at the Carlile Transportation Systems maintenance shop in Fairbanks, the only sign that it is equipped with an ELD are the antennae mounted on the back of the cab and a sticker from device-maker PeopleNet on the passenger side door.
“Driver using electronic logs,” the sticker reads.
One of the antennae is for satellite communication, which allows the ELD to transmit data even in places where there is no cell phone reception—such as along the Dalton Highway.
“Most of the drivers initially were skeptical, but now after using them for a while, you can’t take them away from them if you wanted to.”
We Believe in Our Alaska Community Role - Get to Know Matson, Because We're Interested in Learning About You
Inside the truck’s cab, a small touch-screen wired into the cab’s dashboard displays and transmits information about the truck’s speed, location, and the number of hours the driver has been operating.
PeopleNet, the device manufacturer, compiles the information from the fleet’s ELDs on a web application map. The map displays truck silhouettes at the location of each truck in the fleet. On a Monday morning this winter, the map showed fifty-six trucks in Anchorage, forty-two in Fairbanks, four southbound on the Dalton Highway, and others on the Kenai Peninsula and the Alaska and Richardson Highways.
Based in Anchorage, and part of the Washington-based Saltchuk family of companies, Carlile carries about one-third of Alaska’s intrastate freight with its fleet of 175 trucks, says Jeremy Miller, Carlile’s vice president of trucking operations.
Carlile hasn’t had to do anything recently to get ready for ELD enforcement because the company has been preparing for the new rule for years. It completed installing ELDs in its fleet in 2015.
“We knew that at some point or fashion the regulation was going to be put in effect, and with the size of our fleet, we did not want to wait until the last minute,” Miller says. “We wanted to be on the front end of getting it done.”
A Carlile mechanic holds up a newer-model ELD made by PeopleNet. The company is in the process of updating its ELDs with the newer model.
There was some “fear of change” when Carlile introduced the devices, but ELDs are now popular with the drivers. The drivers complain if a device goes down and they have to revert to using paper logs, Miller says.
At Kenai-based trucking business Weaver Brothers, ELDs were installed more recently than at Carlile: June 2018. The company didn’t switch sooner because Samsara, their ELD provider, didn’t yet have software made for Alaska’s unique truck driver hour rules, says operations manager Nathan Clingman. Weaver Brothers operates a fleet of 125 trucks. Most of the company’s work is short haul, but it nonetheless had the devices installed across the fleet. Weaver Brothers trucks don’t transmit data by satellite, but this feature isn’t as important because the company seldom makes trips up the Dalton Highway. When their trucks lack a cell phone signal, the ELDs continue recording and transmit the data when they reacquire cell phone reception.
When the ELDs were installed a few months ago, most younger drivers embraced the technology, but some older drivers were skeptical, says Clingman. In the following months, the older drivers started to come around.
“We’ve come a long ways. I was just talking to a driver—he’s an older gentleman—and he said ‘I wouldn’t want to go back to paper. It’s easy; I don’t have to worry about it. It does the work for me,’” Clingman recalls.
“We knew that at some point or fashion the regulation was going to be put in effect, and with the size of our fleet, we did not want to wait until the last minute. We wanted to be on the front end of getting it done.”
A sticker on the door of a truck at the Carlile Transportation Services service shop in Fairbanks shows that the truck is equipped with ELD.
It’s Never All Easy
In other parts of the country ELD rules are already being enforced. To study how it’s affecting the market, Ohio-based shipping company Zipline Logistics conducted two surveys about the ELD mandate with 150 trucking companies. In the most recent survey, titled “ELD Mandate Impacts,” which took place in October, 60 percent of fleets reported that the ELD mandate has improved safety.
Another earlier survey titled “Electronic Logging Device Survey 2018” told a different story. The Missouri-based Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which conducted the survey, has consistently opposed the ELD mandate and has sued the federal government to stop it. The owner-operated trucking group reported it took an online survey of 2,000 drivers in January. Asked how the ELD rules have affected fatigue, more than 70 percent of drivers reported it increased fatigued driving and less than 5 percent reported it caused decreased fatigue.
“We’ve come a long ways. I was just talking to a driver—he’s an older gentleman—and he said ‘I wouldn’t want to go back to paper.'”
In addition to the safety issue, the Zipline Logistics survey asked trucking companies about how ELDs have affected shipping rates. About half the companies blamed increasing shipping rates on the mandate (a smaller percentage than in an earlier survey in March), but the companies identified a driver shortage as the biggest factor in increasing shipping rates, not the ELD mandate.
The companies in the Zipline survey also reported that the ELD mandate is transforming the way they choose customers. With the electronic shift clock automatically ticking once drivers begin their day, trucking companies reported getting more impatient when serving clients that are slow to load or unload cargo. Some 77 percent of the companies reported becoming more selective in the companies they are willing to serve.
In Alaska, it’s too soon to know how the ELD mandate will affect the industry. The mandate was created to improve safety, but if it also forces companies to get truckers on their way more efficiently, that’s a bonus consequence, says Thompson.
“This has been a problem for years,” he says. “This could be a good thing. It will increase communication between drivers and shippers.”
In This Issue
The Alaska Marine Lifeline
The current conversation Alaskans are having was spurred by Governor Mike Dunleavy’s initial budget proposal for 2020, which would cut funding to the AMHS by 75 percent and essentially end most operations by October.