electronic logging devices (ELD) in trucking

What Is an Electronic Logging Device (ELD) in Trucking

The trucking industry has transformed considerably in the last few decades following the introduction of more advanced, powerful, fuel-efficient, and multi-functional freight vehicles.

Moreover, another major transition in the industry has been the rapid shift from analog to digital technologies with the introduction of Electronic Logging Devices (more commonly known as ELDs). 

These devices have become mandatory for commercial trucks and other freight vehicles since December 2017 by the United States Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). 

In short, an ELD is an advanced recording device in form of a tablet computer that connects to a vehicle’s engine and automatically records data related to its operation and driving activities.

The core purpose of Electronic Logging Devices is to help drivers and fleet operators (carriers) enable data-driven decision-making and comply with local legislation in the United States and other countries.

In this post, we’ll cover how ELDs work, what information they record, their benefits and drawbacks, and other essential information related to them for truckers and carriers. 

How Does an ELD Work?

Understanding Electronic Logging Devices can be difficult, especially for veteran truckers or traditional carriers with a limited understanding of digitalized processes, activities, and communications.

An Electronic Logging Device (ELD) – © TruckPR

As the ELD mandate is no longer a new rule, every trucker or operator, regardless of their hours of service or the type of cargo they transport, needs to understand how ELDs work and how to implement them. 

What Does an ELD Do?

In essence, an Electronic Logging Device (ELD) is a digital version of traditional paper logbooks used to record different types of data. 

This DOT-certified electronic hardware is plugged into a freight vehicle’s onboard diagnostics (OBD) port and remains operational at all times during hours of service, capturing data related to the engine, vehicle location, speed, mileage, and more. 

The device then sends the data collected to a server and creates status logs automatically. The information is updated around the clock and can be viewed through an app on a smartphone, tablet, computer, or other compatible devices. 

Using this information, truckers and carriers can monitor freight activities from anywhere. Similarly, compliance managers can analyze performance using ELD reports, notifications, and maps. 

The best ELD devices in the market feature an intuitive user interface with seamless navigation to various additional functions. Moreover, they display real-time information related to movement, instead of “breadcrumb” data, every few minutes using powerful built-in accelerometers and gyroscopes that can even detect harsh braking or quick turning. 

Most new ELDs transmit data using cellular service. Meanwhile, older versions transmit data via Bluetooth to devices which can then be shared accordingly via email or other means. 

What Type of Data Do ELDs Record?

As mentioned above, ELDs record different types of data that users can leverage to improve freight operations and ensure FMCSA compliance. The following are some of the most common data points:

  • Date & Time – Freight transport is a time-sensitive operation with little or no room for delays or downtime. Hence, date and time tracking allows truckers and carriers to manage schedules and adhere to strict deadlines. Date and time can also help drivers make just-in-time decision-making to improve agility and flexibility when hauling cargo.
  • Location – ELDs record the current location at certain time intervals for users to keep track of the vehicle’s whereabouts constantly and use the information to make vital scheduling and procurement decisions. For example, carriers can use location tracking to prompt shippers to arrange the required personnel and machinery to load or unload cargo ahead of time to prevent detention charges.
  • Distance Travelled – The distance traveled during freight operations provides valuable insights into a vehicle’s and driver’s condition. For instance, drivers can use mileage data to plan routine maintenance. Similarly, fleet operators can use distance to plan and adjust their routes accordingly. Some also use distance to calculate drivers’ wages and truck expenses.
  • Engine Status – Engine status is among the most important types of data for drivers and carriers. It provides real-time diagnostic information related to temperature, tire pressure, malfunctions, ignition status, and more. Using this information, both parties can ensure safety during operations and prevent downtime due to breakdowns through proactive repairs and preventive maintenance.
  • Movement – ELDs record movement via accelerometers and GPS trackers. This can help fleet operators know whether drivers are on the move or not, especially during FTL and LTL operations with multiple drop-off points. 
  • Truck ID – Truck ID refers to the freight vehicle’s ELD registration information, including its license plate number and owner’s/driver’s details. Operators can use this information to identify all vehicles along with their particulars.
  • Driver ID – Every trucker using an ELD uses a Driver ID to login into their panel and access and transfer the vehicle data collected. With this, carriers would be able to track drivers that are on duty and off duty.
  • Idling Time – Idling time refers to the duration when a freight vehicle isn’t moving but has its engine running. This data is used to help drivers and operators log the duration of delays. In the long run, it can also be used by truck dispatchers and analysts to analyze routes according to traffic and other road conditions that cause excessive idling.
  • Travel Time – Travel time is a vital piece of data fleet operators use to plan their freight schedules. It refers to the duration when a freight vehicle is in transit. 
  • Hours of Service (HOS) – Hours of service (HOS) refers to governmental regulations related to the maximum number of hours truckers can work in a single shift. ELDs record HOS data to help carriers and drivers comply with FMCSA regulations. 
  • Driver Actions – Many modern ELDs can also capture driver actions during transit, including fueling, loading, and unloading. 

How to Access the Recorded Information

Data collected by Electronic Logging Devices are stored in a server-based database called an e-Log. To access and view this data, users simply have to log in to their ELD provider’s portal using a dedicated app or browser on their phone, tablet, or computer.

An ELD Inside a Semi Truck© TruckPR

The e-Logs are mainly accessible by dispatchers, analysts, and the management for data processing. Fleet operators also sync or integrate ELDs with their fleet management software to centralize data flow, workflow, and communications. 

How Much Do ELDs Cost?

The cost of ELD is split between hardware and software. According to an FMCSA study, the estimated average annual cost for Electronic Logging Devices is $495 per truck.

However, the actual cost can range anywhere between $165 and $832 according to the provider, software, and other factors. The following are examples of ELD price packages offered by two popular FMCSA-approved companies in the market:

  • Garmin eLogGarmin eLog is among the most popular ELDs in the market due to zero ongoing costs. Users pay $250 upfront to get access to the device, mobile app, and 24/7 customer support. The FMCSA-compliant device serves fleets of all sizes and includes all essential features, such as Driver Duty status, Bluetooth compatibility, and fuel tracking. 
  • Motive ELDMotive ELD is another top-shelf ELD in the trucking market featuring an intuitive interface, two-way messaging, real-time visual inspections, and more. It requires a moderate upfront investment of $150 for the device along with a $25/mo subscription. In total, this ELD will cost users $450 for the first year and $300 annually from the second year. 

Today, many companies in the market allow the practice of BYOD (bring your own device) to help drivers and fleet operators reduce costs and encourage them to improve their operations and safety. 

Moreover, the FMCSA study reported an annualized ROI of between 37% to 64%, meaning users would greatly benefit from this innovative logging technology. The implementation of ELDs has shown a reduction in accidents, better time management, fewer detentions, and more. 

ELD Compliance

As mentioned earlier, the FMCSA specifies that ELD use is mandatory for freight vehicles. This rule was introduced on December 18, 2017, and was effectuated for all vehicles under FMCSA legislation by December 16, 2019.

The core purpose of mandating ELDs was to standardize, digitalize, and centralize compliance management. These devices record data related to driver activity (including HOS) and vehicle operation/condition.

Electronic logging devices are vital for ensuring that drivers aren’t overworked and that their trucks are safe to operate. Statistics show that ELDs also minimize accidents and maximize driver and road safety.

Currently, the ELD mandate applies to:

  • Freight vehicles weighing 10,001 pounds or more.
  • Freight vehicles with gross weight rating or gross combination weight rating exceeding 10,001 pounds.
  • Freight vehicles transporting hazardous cargo in a quantity requiring placards.
  • Drivers and owner-operators who are required to keep Duty Status records.

FMCSA Approved Electronic Logging Devices

To meet roadside electronic data reporting requirements, the FMCSA has highlighted a list of essential features an ELD should possess for operators to comply with the ELD mandate:

  • Integral Synchronization –  The FMCSA requires ELDs to automatically capture and synchronize data, including miles driven, engine power status, vehicle motion status, and engine hours. Only vehicle models older than 2000 are exempted from this rule. 
  • Recording Location Information – ELDs must record and update duty status at every 60-minute interval during vehicle operation, including engine-off instances. 
  • Graph Grid Display – To comply with FMCSA, ELDs must be capable of displaying duty status in a graph grid via display or printout. 
  • HOS Driver Advisory Messages – While the FMCSA doesn’t require HOS limit notifications, this feature can provide a warning to drivers for unassigned driving time or miles. 
  • Device “Default” Duty Status – ELDs must provide a default “on-duty not driving” status when a vehicle has not been in motion for five consecutive minutes. 
  • Clock Time Draft – The FMCSA requires ELDs to synchronize their time to the Universal Time Coordinated (UTC) with a maximum deviation of 10 minutes. 
  • Communication Methods – Every ELD must provide both wireless and web services along with local data transfer methods, such as Bluetooth and USB 2.0 ports. Moreover, ELDS must be able to display ELD data to safety officials via printout or display. 
  • Resistance to Tampering –  The FMCSA mandates that ELDs must be tamper-proof to maximize data integrity, meaning no one should be able to alter the data collected. 
  • Identification of Sensor Failures and Edited Data – ELDs must be capable of monitoring, detecting, displaying, and recording malfunctioning or inconsistent engine, timing, and other data. 

ELD Exemptions

Although the ELD mandate is crucial for most drivers and operators in the freight industry, there are certain exemptions to know about. For instance, drivers of vehicles manufactured before 2000 do not require the installation of an electronic logging device.

This is due to the fact that most engines manufactured before this period would lack an engine control module. Secondly, drivers who maintain records of duty status (RODS) for no more than eight days in 30 days are legally allowed to operate their vehicles without ELDs.

This exemption is mainly for short-haul drivers or carriers with small operations. Other exempted parties include owners of certain farm vehicles and non-CDL drivers operating under a 150-air-mile radius.

While these exemptions allow drivers and operators to legally operate without ELDs, this does not mean they can’t or shouldn’t comply with FMCSA’s ELD ruling.

Why Should You Use an Electronic Logging Device?

Considering the complex chain of operations and safety hazards prevalent in the freight industry, the FMCSA mandate is not the sole reason for installing ELDs. There are a host of reasons why carriers and truckers should equip their vehicles with this innovative technology.

modern ELD
A Modern Electronic Logging Device

Undoubtedly, they require a hefty investment and come with a learning curve. However, their benefits outweigh both factors by a great margin.

We have summarized the key benefits and drawbacks of using Electronic Logging Devices for prospective truckers and fleet owners to review and determine if they make a valuable addition to their fleet and operations.

Benefits of Using an ELD   

There are many advantages that a carrier would gain from installing an ELD. We have listed some of the most impactful ones below:

  • Returns On Investment – ELDs provide users with access to vital information, such as location, engine status, distance traveled, and more. All this data can be used to make decisions that can result in cost savings. For instance, engine malfunction reports can prompt carriers to proactively take care of minor repairs before they escalate, saving thousands of dollars in the process. Moreover, real-time data prompts drivers to comply with FMCSA rulings to save on penalties. Furthermore, distance and movement data can help reduce loading and unloading times by alerting shippers and receivers to have their resources on standby. 
  • Road Safety – As mentioned earlier, ELDs provide real-time data related to engine and vehicle conditions – both factors that can directly improve road safety by preventing accidents. Moreover, HOS data ensures drivers aren’t overworked and remain vigilant when hauling cargo. A recent study on traffic injury prevention showed that ELD-equipped trucks had an 11.7% lower crash rate.
  • Reduced Paperwork – Paperwork has traditionally been one of the most inconvenient aspects of freight operations. The integration and adoption of ELDs can enable drivers and operators to save thousands of hours of paperwork by automating, streamlining, and centralizing the process. Moreover, the time saved on this daunting but mandatory work can be used for more valuable tasks or activities. 
  • GPS Tracking – GPS tracking offers several benefits to carriers. For instance, it enables them to know about the whereabouts of their vehicles and drivers. Using this information, they can make proactive decisions related to scheduling. Moreover, they can use the location data to warn drivers of bad weather, traffic congestion, and other issues. 
  • Trip Analytics – Many advanced ELDs offer additional features that enable carriers to optimize their routes, reduce costs, and evaluate driver performances. For instance, fuel tracking allows them to estimate the costs of operating on a specific route. Similarly, idling time prompts them to look for routes with better traffic conditions. 
  • Trip Navigation – Some ELDs offer GPS navigation, meaning drivers don’t have to rely on their phones or other devices to find the optimal routes for hauling cargo from one location to another. 

Drawbacks of Using an ELD

As with all things, there are a few drawbacks when it comes to electronic logging devices. Drivers and carriers should carefully study the points below to consider and prepare for them before deciding to implement ELDs.

  • Sensitivity to Short Distance – Some ELDs lack the accuracy to pinpoint short-distance hauling, which could lead to errors in reports. However, drivers can log an annotation for each short-haul done to eliminate inconsistencies. 
  • Increased Operational Cost – As mentioned earlier, ELDs require an upfront investment. Additionally, most devices come with a monthly subscription that can easily add to operational costs. As a result, they might not be the most cost-effective solution for everyone, especially aspiring truckers new to the industry or small carriers with limited capital. However, this does not mean they can’t opt for inexpensive providers or companies offering viable solutions, such as “bring your own device” (BYOD). 
  • Learning Curve – As with any new technology, ELD adoption comes with a learning curve. It requires time and effort to learn and operate this complex device, more so for those who are not tech-savvy. However, most ELD providers offer 24/7 technical support which could easily accelerate the transition journey. 
  • Device Compliance – There will be companies in the trucking market that don’t comply with FMCSA’s ELD specifications. As a result, opting for a non-compliant device (intentionally or unintentionally) could put your business at risk. A simple solution to this problem is due diligence. With a quick search or phone call, prospectus buyers can verify if an ELD is FMCSA-compliant.
  • Driver Compliance – Both carriers and drivers have an obligation to comply with HOS regulations. The implementation of ELDs may hold truck drivers to this regulation without flexibility or exceptions. This can occur when a trip only exceeds the HOS by a small amount of time, typically less than half an hour. Such instances may be a cause for concern to truck drivers as it could translate to one less trip since they are not allowed to exceed the stipulated hours. However, the FMCSA’s study has shown improved safety for both the truck driver and those around them with relatively fewer accidents after the ruling in 2017.