With the Dec. 2017 "due date" for using electronic logging devices, or ELDs — or their predecessor automatic on-board recording devices — in commercial motor vehicles about nine months out, Joe DeLorenzo, director of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's Office of Compliance and Enforcement, has advice and a few requests for carriers during this potentially confusing run-up period to the deadline.
"I want to make sure we're all kind of level-set on where the ELD rule is and what some of the requirements are," he told the audience. "But I really want to focus on what has to happen over the next few months," he said, speaking at Omnitracs' Outlook user conference last week in Phoenix. "There's a lot that has to happen between now and then."
Part of the reason these months in between are more problematic is there are more kinds of logging going on for commercial drivers.
Right now, drivers could be using paper logs, they could have a simple app or driver logging software that doesn't conform to ELD or AOBRD requirements, they could have an AOBRD device, or they could have a product purporting to meet the new ELD specifications. All those options are fine until the ELD deadline will cut out all but ELDs and grandfathered-in AOBRDs; in the meantime, it's more to mess with for enforcement officers.
"This, in my opinion, is the most difficult phase of the whole implementation," DeLorenzo contended. "Right now there are many different options out there; it's the most difficult for you, because you're getting ready and you're trying to establish how this is all going to work out at your company. It's the most difficult for us, too, because we're trying to look at all these different ways that carriers can keep track of hours of service."
He had some words of advice and recommendations for fleets for the coming months.
Have a plan
DeLorenzo urged carriers to make some decisions about ELDs and what their plan will be, whether they're looking to implement an ELD-compliant product or have an AOBRD in place prior to Dec. 17, 2017, in that latter case granting an automatic 2-year extension through 2019.
With ELDs, figuratively speaking, just realize this is about the time the plane has begun its initial descent to the airport. "The biggest mistake — and this is not just an ELD rule issue, it's kind of an 'any rule' issue — our natural human tendency is to wait, it's coming, we'll see as we get closer down the road," DeLorenzo cautioned. "Pre-planning and thinking about your operation in the context of ELDs is really what the most important thing is."
He boiled it down further: "My summary, if you want to think about who needs an ELD, is if you're a driver now that has to fill out a log book, you need an ELD," DeLorenzo said. "That's really what it comes down to."
Roadside tip: Understand exactly your kind of log
DeLorenzo pointed out that the more drivers are informed about what kind of logs they're keeping, the more it'll help make road stops as painless as possible. Officers will be challenged during the run-up to ELDs and after the mandate deadline, he said, and you'll will want to add to those challenges and stress as little as possible.
"What exactly are they (officers) looking for when they stop me on the roadside and they stop my driver?" he asked. "What it comes down to is they're looking for compliance with the Hours of Service. Whatever method of [driver log] tracking you're using, our goal — and the goal of our state law enforcement partners — is to make sure that you're in compliance with the Hours of Service. That's all everybody really wants."
DeLorenzo noted that particularly in this transitional period of ELD implementation, some carriers may be using more than one type of driver logs — such as if they're continuing to keep paper logs primarily while testing out electronic logs of some kind, or if they've transitioned to electronic logs but are still keeping paper backups.
In that situation, drivers must know which log method is the official one. That's the one the officer will rely on to establish Hours of Service compliance, DeLorenzo explained.
"Roadside inspections are very difficult situations for everybody," he told listeners. "The more that a driver knows and can articulate [about what form of driver logs he or she is using], the easier it is for the law enforcement officer."
In addition, DeLorenzo noted that ELD requirements specify that the device must be able to print out particular information on the driver, vehicle and status or be able to be handed outside the truck cab to an officer and present that same information on a screen. In either case, the officer doesn't need to go inside the truck to get things, which is a situation you'll want to avoid during road stops if possible.
"Keep in mind, again, what a roadside inspection is like. An officer doesn't want to be inside your cab, you don't want an officer inside your cab — a lot of things can go wrong there," DeLorenzo said. "So I would ask, again, that you make sure drivers understand what they have out there."
The tricky matter of the 8-day exception
One of the more delicate items in the ELD mandate is an exception for drivers who are required to keep logs for no more than eight days in any rolling 30-day period. Those drivers will be allowed to continue using paper logs and won't need to use an ELD, but DeLorenzo said it's an area that concerns him because it doesn't take much to get "in hot water."
"The one that I am most concerned about is the eight-day rule, okay?" he said. "Because the eight-day rule is the one where you can't be figuring this out on the seventh day in any 30-day period and finding out that this is going to be a problem."
DeLorenzo emphasized that the exception is specifically any rolling 30-day period — it doesn't go by the month. "This is the one where I'm really encouraging everyone to look at their operations," he said. "This is the kind of thing that gets folks tripped up," he added, because it might take only one extra run or one driver being unavailable to throw things off.
"That's what happens a lot: 'my driver went down sick for a couple of days, and now, suddenly, I'm going to be losing this exception and that [other] driver is going to need an ELD,'" DeLorenzo noted. "Then you've got to go back, you've got to enter all that information into the ELD [so the driver can use it], and then it's just a lot more work for everyone.
"I don't think I can stress that enough — thinking ahead and figuring out what you as a carrier are really going to need in terms of those exceptions is going to be really important," he continued.