The trucking industry is finally on the precipice of what will be the final leg of the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate implementation, which will go into effect on December 16. With that, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will expect every truck running on American roads to comply with the mandate and have an ELD in the cab.
The drawn-out hard deadline for the mandate allows carriers that have been running last-generation automatic on-board recording devices (AOBRDs) on their trucks to adapt to the newer ELDs. Unlike the smaller fleets and owner-operators that made up the bulk of the fleets that flocked to buy ELDs during the 2017 deadline, the target audience here is predominantly large carrier companies that typically operate 50-100 trucks on average.
Ken Evans, the founder and CEO of Konexial, an ELD solutions company, explained that though the carriers that feel the impact of the upcoming deadline tend to be much larger than the ones back in 2017, the mentality of the management is pretty similar – fleets are still looking to put off adopting ELDs until the last possible moment.
Evans contended that the carriers that continue running AOBRDs do not realize the time it takes for drivers to get accustomed to operating an entirely new device. "Fleets might also have problems with the hardware, which means they will have to switch hardware as well. The aspect of human behavior is important to note – as learning a new piece of software and working around with the hours of service rules is a big change for people," he said.
This could be a problem as the FMCSA has repeatedly stated that there will be no soft enforcement of regulations past the December 16 deadline. "The problem is that most of these people don't follow the news as closely as they should. And so I believe that it's going to continue to spill over after the deadline," said Evans. "Where I see people get serious about it is when they get pulled over for the first time by an officer who actually enforces the hours of service rule or when they face a back-office audit at the carrier's office."
That said, a significant portion of the trucks that have run ELDs over the last couple of years have been dissatisfied with their ELD providers, marked by issues like lack of timely customer support and hardware or software breakdowns.
Fleets transitioning to the ELDs from AOBRDs will have to be picky with their new providers, as choosing poorly rated ELD providers might lead them to nightmarish diagnostic issues and hardware malfunctions – situations that do not frequently happen within the AOBRD ecosystem.
"Loss of connectivity or issues with the devices that need repair or help to be put back to full compliance is an uneasy situation to be in, but fleets and drivers will have to learn that process to ensure they are compliant at all times," said Walter Kutschal, compliance product manager at Platform Science, an enterprise IoT telematics platform. "On the other end, ELD companies need to proactively monitor and identify issues before their customers get impacted."
For an ELD provider to become a market leader, it is not just about getting the basic functionalities right, but also about providing overarching service to its customers. For instance, the technology of edge computing can be used to improve ELD services as it allows ELDs to process data coming from the truck within the cab itself, reducing the time and signal strength needed for relaying data to the cloud for processing.
Evans mentioned that there are over 600 companies that sell self-certified ELD solutions, and that it is vital for fleets to identify the good ones to ensure they gain the best value for their money. Review sites like ELD Ratings are run by neutral platforms that have honest reviews written by truckers who use a variety of ELDs from different providers.
Carriers will also have to inch away from the idea of blindly opting for solutions put out by industry incumbents, just due to the fact that they have run steady businesses in the industry for several decades.
"Technology is changing significantly, and there are much better value propositions out there that come from smaller providers. People need to go beyond the marketing baloney and talk with fleet managers and find actual reviews on ELDs," said Evans. "The newer companies that have better technology will start gaining market share at the expense of older companies that maybe didn't invest the way they should have."
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