Electronic Logging Deadline Looms Large for Construction Companies
The December 18 deadline for switching from paper to electronic hours of service (HOS) logging is fast approaching. For those companies waiting until the last minute to implement an electronic solution, the process may be a bit overwhelming.
It's not just a matter of buying a unit and switching from paper to an electronic logging device (ELD). There is equipment to purchase, subscription fees to consider, new terminology to learn and training to conduct, so everyone is using the system properly. Selecting a solution that does not mesh with company needs can add time and frustration to the logging process.
That initial step of picking an ELD solution provider may prove to be the hardest. At last glance, there were more than 100 different registered ELDs on the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's (FMCSA) website. Many were developed specifically for the needs of long-haul transportation companies, moving goods throughout the country.
There are some providers, however, who specialize in developing software solutions specifically for the needs of the construction industry, like Sugar Land, Tex.-based HCSS. "First and foremost, a contractor needs to make sure the selected solution fits the company's compliance goals and operating needs," says Amy Tarkington, product marketer for HCSS, who offers HCSS eLogs as an ELD solution.
Before doing research to wade through the myriad of FMCSA registered ELDs, first verify if company drivers must make the switch from paper to electronic HOS logging. Even if they are exempt, don't necessary rule out converting to ELDs, as efficiency gains can lead to cost savings.
Compliance vs Exemption
Not all construction companies or companies supplying equipment and materials to the construction industry will need to automatically switch from paper to be compliant with the FMCSA's new electronic device rule. Some companies may be able to stick to logging HOS on paper, should the company choose to do so.
As a general rule, companies with drivers already logging HOS reports and maintaining Records of Duty Status (RODS) will need to comply with the new electronic mandate. This includes fleets with commercial trucks that have a gross vehicle weight or gross combination weight of 10,001 pounds or more as well as those companies transporting material found by the Secretary of Transportation to be hazardous under 49 U.S.C. 5103, which require placarding. It doesn't matter if it's a dump truck, tractor-trailer transporting equipment or concrete mixer truck, if the vehicle meets one of these criteria, a company may be affected by the mandate.
The FMCSA does allow for some exemptions to the ELD mandate. These exclusions include drivers using paper RODS for no more than eight days out of every 30-day period. Also, drivers with vehicles manufactured before 2000 and those conducting drive-away-tow-away operations are exempt.
A number of short-haul exemptions exist in which construction companies should consider in order to see if they need to switch to electronic logging. A driver does not need to comply if he/she logs fewer than 12 hours of duty time, 11 hours of drive time and takes at least 10 consecutive hours off between shifts. A CDL licensed driver who stays within a 100-mile radius from the shift start/stop location or non-CDL driver staying within a 150-mile radius does not need to comply with the mandate.
Safe, Not Sorry
Even if a company's drivers meet all the exemptions, it may worthwhile to consider switching to electronic logging. The price for not complying with HOS rules are steep, ranging from fines to having the license revoked.
Melissa Rogers, HCSS eLogs Product Manager, says that some companies are switching from paper to electronic logs even though they are not required to by the FMCSA. "Electronic logging can help increase safety and efficiency," she explains. "Records for the past 7 days of driving are stored locally on the mobile device. This allows drivers to find and display their logs easily without having to fumble through paper logs. The logs cannot be tampered with. Our eLogs app displays alerts to the drivers when they come within three hours of a violation."
Companies with a mixed fleet of drivers who do/do not need to comply with the new mandate may want to consider implementing electronic logs across the board. "Most of our drivers meet the short-haul exemption, but we make trips to Des Moines (Iowa), which is outside the 100 air-mile exemption," comments Tim Vaske, the Cedar Rapids, Iowa Branch Manager for ABC Supply, a national wholesale distributor of building materials such as siding, windows, roofing and gutters.
The distributor implemented electronic logging company-wide for all drivers, so everyone is on a consistent platform. "It helps to keep us compliant," says Vaske. "We started using the new system about three months ago, and we're still learning some of its capabilities."
Rogers says that's normal for companies switching from paper to electronic hour logging. She also cautions companies who have yet to implement an ELD solution to not wait until the December deadline.
"We typically train an office manager on HCSS eLogs usage, and that person will train the drivers," she says. "There is definitely a transition period for the company. Another consideration - expect longer lead times to receive system hardware as the deadline approaches, as contractors rush to implement a solution.
The Right Fit
With the vast number of FMCSA registered ELDs available to the construction industry, Tarkington strongly urges company officials to do their homework before selecting a provider. Officials should look at their specific needs and make sure the ELD solution is designed to accommodate them.
"Study the driver's work patterns, if one or multiple drivers use the same truck, if cell or network service is reliable within the work region, and the technical capabilities of each driver," advises Tarkington. "Contractors should consider going with a provider who has knowledge of the construction industry, as those ELD solutions will be more likely tailored to industry-specific needs and may synch with other software programs the company uses."
Some devices store information on proprietary tablets or computers localized to the truck in which they are installed. This can create issues and add to inefficiencies, should multiple drivers use the same truck.
The solution that ABC Supply uses for compliance includes a computer monitor mounted inside the truck's cabin. "With our system, if we want another driver to take a truck to get fueled, the first driver must log out and do a post-trip inspection report and then the second driver must log in and do a pre-trip inspection before getting fuel," explains Vaske. "Also, if a driver fails to log out prior to taking a mandated break and another driver moves the truck around the building to get loaded, it can negate the first driver's break."
This is a case where finding an ELD solution with driver workflows in mind can help increase efficiency. "HCSS eLogs allows for multiple drivers to be logged into the same ELD at the same time," offers Rogers. "It includes a small GPS unit that installs under the dash, and a driver uses the app to log into the system. Since the data is stored locally on the mobile device, a network or cell connection is not required to pull up the driver's history for an inspection."
Since drivers typically have varying levels of technical savvy when it comes to working with electronics, it is imperative that the system not be overly complicated to use. Intuitive control and easy log-in will avoid HOS logging errors. "Look for a system that offers the latest Bluetooth LE (low energy) connection that eliminates the need for devise paring, so drivers just log-in and go," adds Rogers. "We have designed our system with minimal buttons on the homescreen, and we use easy-to-understand labels like "˜Start Break' and "˜Roadside Inspection' to make using the app intuitive."
Another advantage of choosing ELD software made for construction, according to Tarkington, is that systems like HCSS eLogs can come with telematics data, which can integrate with existing project management or equipment maintenance programs. "Telematics data feeds into other HCSS software," says Tarkington. "For example, it works with HCSS Dispatcher and FuelerPlus, so managers know where trucks are located and where to send fuel trucks. It also synchs with our Equipment360, so truck maintenance and servicing can be automated."
Finally, finding a partner who offers 24/7 system support is critical, especially during the initial set-up period. "Those in charge with implementing the ELD will no doubt have questions while learning the new system, and the provider should be there every step of the way, including down the road if experiencing either hardware or software issues," comments Rogers.
Bottom line is, if a company hasn't already done so, start working with ELD suppliers now in order to get the right system that meets the company's needs. "Suppliers are here to help companies meet their needs for compliance," says Tarkington. "Work with them and ask as many questions as necessary to make the determination if the system will efficiently work for the company. If it does not, there are many other systems available."