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April 20, 2017 4:05 PM, EDT

Training Vital for E-Log Deployment, Fleets Say

Seth Clevenger — Transport Topics

This story appears in the April 17 print edition of iTECH, a supplement to Transport Topics.

PHOENIX — With just eight months remaining until the federal electronic logging mandate goes into effect, fleets that still rely on paper driver logs soon will need to make the transition to e-logs, but that process involves much more than simply installing a device in a truck.

A successful e-log rollout requires planning, training and a coordinated effort throughout the entire organization, several fleet executives said here Feb. 28 at Omnitracs’ annual user conference.

“This is a companywide issue. This is not a safety department problem,” said Russ Elliott, senior vice president of operations at Melton Truck Lines, which has been using e-logs for about a decade.

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In addition to driver training, driver managers and customer service personnel also need to understand how e-logs work, he said.

Melton, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma, ranks No. 87 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in the United States and Canada.

Steven Field, director of safety at Prime Inc., agreed that operations staff must be involved in e-log implementation.

“You have to train your dispatchers, your fleet managers,” he said. “They have to understand the ins and outs of electronic logs and the pressure or stress drivers are under to keep moving, because that clock just doesn’t stop.”

Since moving to e-logs, Prime’s dispatchers “have to be joined at the hip with the driver,” Field said. “We can’t afford to waste a minute on electronic logs.”

Prime, based in Springfield, Missouri, began migrating to e-logs in 2009 and completed the implementation across its fleet by 2011, he said. The company ranks No. 18 on the for-hire TT100.

Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s e-log device mandate, nearly all drivers currently required to keep paper logbooks will need to install ELDs to record their hours of service by Dec. 18.

Joe DeLorenzo, director of FMCSA’s office of enforcement and compliance, shared a similar message for fleets making the transition to ELDs.

He urged carriers to plan ahead and think about how they will integrate ELDs into their own operations to ensure a smooth implementation.

Fleets also can speed up roadside inspections by educating their drivers about the systems they will be using, DeLorenzo added.

“Make sure your drivers know what type of device they have and how to use it,” he said. “The more that a driver knows and can articulate … the easier it is for the law enforcement officer.”

Elliott said Melton is using social media such as Facebook to communicate with its employees about ELDs.

“It’s easier now to get information out to your fleet than it used to be,” he said.

To ease the transition to e-logs, Elliott recommended that fleets first secure the support of their senior drivers, who then can act as ambassadors to the rest of the fleet’s driver force.

Mahal Cason, director of logs at Landstar System, faces a different set of challenges. As a 100% owner-operator fleet, Landstar doesn’t own the trucks, and a portion of the company’s drivers are still using paper logs.

Beyond simply providing training on ELDs, the company is striving to achieve a comfort level with the drivers, including those who are not technophiles.

“There are some guys that are just so reluctant to even have a smartphone,” she said.

In addition, Cason said that many of the company’s drivers have opposed the ELD mandate and are holding out hope that President Trump or “some savior” will reverse the regulation, a prospect that appears increasingly unlikely.

Despite their reticence to install ELDs, a majority of those drivers say they will adopt the technology if it’s required rather than leaving the industry.

“Most truck drivers love what they do, so they’re going to give it a shot,” she said.

Landstar, which is based in Jacksonville, Florida, ranks No. 9 on the for-hire TT100.

While some may fear lost productivity under e-logs, Elliott said that Melton actually saw a 1% productivity gain in the first two months after switching from paper to electronic logs.

“If you are managing your logs correctly on paper, when you make this transition to electronic, you don’t have this massive problem,” he said.

Field, of Prime, said putting the entire industry on e-logs will help level the playing field and could support rate increases. He predicted that the ELD mandate will diminish freight capacity, leading to an environment that enables fleets to negotiate better contracts with their customers.

Fleet executives said they would continue using e-logs even if FMCSA wasn’t mandating it.

“We think it gives the driver the opportunity to get good rest,” Field said. “It certainly makes compliance reviews go smoother with the FMCSA.”

For the most part, drivers also have bought in over the years, he added.

While it was initially hard for some drivers, now they’re eager to get their onboard units fixed if they malfunction.

“Overall, it’s made their lives a little bit simpler, a little bit easier, once they mastered how the electronic logs worked,” Field said. “I can’t speak for every driver, but I think overall they’re satisfied and prefer it to paper logs.”

Tom Nartker, vice president of transportation at Albertsons Cos., echoed that sentiment.

“If you ask any of our drivers, they’ll tell you they would never go back,” he said. “They know that from a log standpoint, they don’t have to worry about ever being out of compliance.”

Albertsons, based in Boise, Idaho, ranks No. 22 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest private carriers in North America. ³