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ELDs: What They Are and How They Can Change the Future of Logistics

Since 2015, the US trucking community has been in a constant debate over how best to register work times for over-the-road and long-haul drivers in an innovative way that replaces the old practice of self-regulating via pencil and paper logs.

Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs)  and Automatic On-Board Recording Devices (AOBRDs) play a central role in this regulation controversy.  With these mechanisms, driver activity is automatically registered via electronic devices connected directly from the engine to a computer. This, in turn, is all strictly regulated by the Department of Transportation , which specifies requirements that  each new model must meet in order to be considered an appropriate measuring system.

The process of replacing the old paper and pencil system has been gradual, with the promotion of the “ELD Mandate” since October of 2015. It has taken almost 4 years to set a deadline of December 2019 for all transports within the supply line to comply with the mandate.

The differences between the outdated AOBRD systems and the newer ELDs have sparked further discussion and debate among drivers, but if, in theory, the more recent practices are more streamlined and exact, why is it that truckers seem to be in constant protest against the mandate? We seek to answer this question because trends in the US can change the way industries behave around the world, and the state of ELD usage concerns all logistics operations around the world, particularly those looking to enter into USMCA approved cross-border trade.

Benefits, Inequities, and Compromise. 

“Catching up the logbook” has been a long-time practice among truckers. This refers to when a commercial driver self-regulates and logs hours and dates into a paper log that is kept  within the legal amount of work hours, even if the  actual timetable was utterly disparate. This practice created a culture that put on-time deliveries above all else, forcing drivers to work irregular hours, which created a need for automatic regulation that would disclose a trucker’s driving time to employers and government regulators.

According to the definition that Verizon gives to the devices they provide internationally, “ELDs are electronic hardware that connects directly to an engine to automatically log hours of service.”

When first implemented, an automatic registry came in the form of AOBRDs, which differ from newer ELD devices. It gave no control over to the user except when to start and finish the workday. This gave way to unreasonable working conditions, like non-stop 14-hour shifts with minimal rest, entirely dictated by the computer, resulting in reduced productivity across the board.

To keep the industry from going back to self-regulating drivers, the newer ELDs gave more reasonable control to the driver, still logging the hours automatically from a device in the engine, but requiring “final approval” from the operator before permanently recording them, to allow for more flexibility. According to Overdrive Magazine, more than 20% of companies pointed towards the fact that operators had no control over the logging of hours as the main reason they refused to implement AOBRDs in their fleets. Thanks to innovations and updates in these devices, this number steadily began to decrease.

The website Truck 911 describes modern ELDs as “useful for drivers of trucks, buses, and any other commercial vehicle because of the combination of GPS and engine data that generates precise and informative usage reports.” Although the shared control between driver and computer helped ELDs gain more traction, problems continue to arise when shifting  the whole supply chain to the new computer systems, mainly because when pencil and paper reigned, drivers could work even more extended hours to get loads in time to their destination, creating expectations that cannot be fulfilled when working strict legal hours.

A testimony in Overdrive Magazine sums up this problem perfectly: “Clients will have to change their expectations. If my log says I have fulfilled my regular working hours for the day, even if I’m five minutes away from my destination, I’ll have to stop and move the delivery to the morning of the next day.” This demonstrates that it is not feasible to change the way drivers’ working hours are regulated without also making the market undergo a massive paradigm shift that creates a new culture of client/driver relationships.

The uncertainty that variables such as loading/unloading times, traffic jams, and accidents, all involving human elements, introduce into an operation, cannot be accurately measured by automatic systems that do not include a certain amount of flexibility. No deadline is worth the health and safety of a driver, and no piece of technology is worth the productivity of the entire supply chain. The lesson to learn here, for the rest of the world, is that there is a lot of change that systems have to undergo before they can evolve into  handy and flexible tools that can help drivers increase their productivity without sacrificing comfort and fair working conditions for all operators.