US Truckers Prepare as ELD Deadline Approaches

Shippers in the United States are bracing for a trucking speed bump as the Dec. 16 deadline for motor carriers and truck drivers to switch from automatic onboard recording devices (AOBRDs) to federally mandated electronic logging devices (ELDs) approaches. Businesses that haven't quizzed trucking suppliers about their ELD readiness could hit a holiday roadblock.

On a macro level, no one knows how many carriers using the older AOBRDs - which were grandfathered for two years when the ELD mandate took effect in December 2017 - are still in the midst of the transition, let alone how many haven't even begun to make the switch. Even with an abundant supply of trucks, shippers that haven't planned ahead could come up short.

Part of the problem is the complexity of the switch, and the fact that ELD technology has continued to evolve. "The industry as a whole would have liked to transition earlier, but the providers didn't have software ready at the time," said Michael Owings, vice president of corporate services and support at less-than-truckload (LTL) carrier Southeastern Freight Lines.

Shippers may also feel more supply-and-demand tension simply because more fleets have made the leap from AOBRDs to ELDs and are tightening their control over truck driver working hours as a result. "With AOBRDs it was easier to find logging loopholes in how you move a truck," said Jeremy Stickling, chief administrative officer of truckload carrier Nussbaum Transportation.

For example, unlike AOBRDs, ELDs register a driver as "on-duty" once a truck begins traveling faster than 5 miles per hour (mph). That's occasionally proven problematic for Nussbaum when tractor-trailers stay overnight at a customer's site and are loaded or unloaded early the next morning, Stickling said.

For months, truck telematics and ELD vendors have been warning that a delay in replacing AOBRDs could at least crimp truck capacity just before the holidays, affecting last-minute deliveries. Early adopters have already built training programs for drivers as well as staff, developed new policies, and adapted operations to new ELD software.

LTL carrier Old Dominion Freight Line (ODFL), for example, discovered software was not available to integrate new ELDs into its existing fleet management systems. The company eventually changed suppliers and completed the transition in November.

For Southeastern, the AOBRD-to-ELD journey took six months, starting in May this year and ending Nov. 11. The Lexington, South Carolina-based regional carrier had to install new software and equipment in nearly 3,200 trucks and tractors and train more than 4,000 drivers who work from nearly 90 terminals from El Paso, Texas, to Norfolk, Virginia.

"It went well, but it did take a very long time," Owings said. "We sent teams from our safety department and operations to every location to do onsite training. We would convert all the tractors during the training, and then the drivers would come out and log in to the ELD. Our team would be there for a couple of days to help as they got used to the system."

Carriers that have made the switch find the ELD transition leads to a vast increase in the amount of data they receive, compared with what they used to get from the AOBRD. "You have a lot more status changes, a more granular view of what's going on in the trucker's day," said Stickling. "There's a lot more for the safety department to monitor."

Converting from AOBRDs to ELDs is a different challenge than going from paper logs to electronic logging. One of the main issues is the presence of some level of legacy driver management applications. But drivers at AOBRD fleets are already familiar with electronic logs. "We judged the success of the transition by how much of a non-event it was," Stickling said.

Neither Southeastern nor Nussbaum - two radically different carriers - saw much impact on productivity as a result of the switch to ELDs, a sign their operations were already in tight compliance with the hours-of-service (HOS) regulations ELDs are meant to help regulators enforce. "We were already vigilant, and that set us up for a smoother transition," Stickling said.

Various trucking industry executives, including Werner Enterprises CEO Derek Leathers, have predicted a 1 to 3 percent decline in productivity for those companies in transition. Werner Enterprises pioneered the use of electronic logs in the 1990s and won a formal exemption from the use of paper logs from the FMCSA in 2004.

That productivity loss translates to about 4 to 12 miles per day, per truck, according to Werner. "We think five miles per day is best-case, and that's only after tremendous amounts of training and a commitment to being 100 percent legal at all times," Leathers told The Journal of Commerce. "I think it'll end up averaging around 15 miles per day."

At Nussbaum, "our productivity really hasn't dropped, we're getting the same loads and the same miles," Stickling said. "But it takes us more on-duty time to do it. We're using more of that 14-hour daily on-duty time to get the same work done, and that squeezes the driver's weekly 70-hour limit." Under US HOS rules, truck drivers may work 70 hours in eight days period, or 60 hours in seven days.

Take that three-hour loss of driving time at a loading dock that Stickling mentioned as an example of the ELD impact. An inability to drive more than seven hours one day could mean a driver is not where he or she wanted or expected to be the next day, or the day after. The loss of driving time, measured in minutes, is cumulative throughout the week, he pointed out.

Still, the closing of loopholes that allowed drivers to take shortcuts around hours of service rules "is a good thing," Stickling said, as is pressure on shippers to eliminate slack in their own operations, ensuring that they're not saving time and money at the expense of truckers hauling their freight.

Trucking operators are being inundated with data from ELDs, or they soon will be, and that's predicted to lead to an explosion in supply chain efficiency. But that hasn't really happened yet. Neither Nussbaum nor Southeastern expect the HOS data received via ELDs to have more than an indirect impact on customer service and supply chain efficiency, at least for now.

Nussbaum is getting more data, not just because of the conversion to ELDs, but a change in suppliers, Stickling said. "We get a ping every two or three minutes from the truck, so instead of a breadcrumb trail every 15 minutes or so, we're getting more frequent updates."

Eventually, the ability of trucking companies to analyze data drawn from hundreds of thousands or millions of ELDs "will have an impact on a macro scale, as it takes hold and fleets start using the data," he said. But that's not going to take place in the next few months, he said.

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Source: Journal of Commerce

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