U.S. Rules Spur E-Log Use, According to Fleets, Vendors

By Seth Clevenger, Staff Reporter

This story appears in the Jan. 14 print edition of Transport Topics.

Pressure from federal safety regulations and the latest transportation bill is pushing more carriers to make the switch from paper driver logs to electronic logging through in-cab systems, according to fleets and vendors.

Hours-of-service problems are among the most common driver violations under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program, and some shippers are looking at those carrier scores when they select their carriers.

And the transportation bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, or MAP-21, includes a provision directing FMCSA to write an EOBR rule.

As a result, fleets increasingly are adopting electronic onboard recorders to address those CSA violations. And some carriers aren’t waiting for a mandate; they’re choosing to tackle hours-of-service compliance head-on.

“I think it was Wayne Gretzky that said you’ve got to skate to where the puck’s going to be, not where it is,” said Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety, security and driver training at Schneider National Inc. “We recognized that electronic logging was coming . . . and we wanted to get in front of that.”

Schneider, which began switching to electronic logs in 2009, saw an EOBR mandate as inevitable but didn’t want to wait for the regulation before working to enhance compliance, Osterberg said.

“We moved to electronic logging because we chose to, not because we had to,” he said.

Brian McLaughlin, president of onboard computing provider PeopleNet Communications Corp., said the two most common driver violations under CSA — form and manner log violations and record of duty status not current — are both hours-of-service related. Together, they make up 26% of total violations according to FMCSA data, the company said.

“Form and manner” driver log violations are “virtually eliminated just by using e-logs,” said Jim Rodi, Rand McNally’s senior vice president of mobile communications.

“Fleets clearly are recognizing that electronic logs can have a positive and significant impact on their CSA scores,” Rodi said.

“Safety really has become the new rock star in the industry because people have to be compliant,” McLaughlin said. “They have to be safe, or else they won’t be around.”

Schneider National implemented electronic logging primarily as a way to improve regulatory compliance, Osterberg said.

“A question we asked ourselves was what other safety-intensive vocation would be handwriting status-of-work logs like paper logs,” he said, later adding that the company saw “an obligation to make sure we were in complete compliance with hours-of-service rules.”

Schneider transitioned to e-logs while implementing Qualcomm’s MCP200 platform, a multifunctional suite of communications products that includes electronic logging. The carrier has been using essentially 100% electronic logs since mid-2010 after completing the installation process, he said.

For many years previously, Schneider had used another in-cab communications system, Qualcomm’s OmniTracs, but used paper logs for driver hours, he said.

Schneider’s transition to electronic logs predated the implementation of CSA, but Osterberg said it did serve as additional validation for the move.

“CSA wasn’t a factor in the decision we made to go to it, but certainly as CSA matured and came online, I was happy that we made the decision that we did when we did,” he said. “The increased visibility that’s driven by CSA will, I believe, serve as a motivation for many carriers to choose to move to electronic logging.”

As for the transportation bill, Osterberg said, “I’m very pleased that Congress had the courage to include mandate language in MAP-21. We believe it’s the right thing to do.”

Schneider National, Green Bay, Wis., ranks No. 6 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers.

Many potential customers want to see fleets’ CSA scoring before making a decision on a carrier, which Vincent Dinino Jr., safety manager at Emerson Express, Rochester, N.Y., said is a major factor motivating truckers to adopt electronic logs.

Dinino said his regional truckload carrier, which operates primarily in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, has been using Qualcomm MCP110 units for a little more than two years. It previously used paper logs, he said.

The owner of the company wanted to get out in front of the EOBR mandate, “and certainly it’s a way to improve the CSA scoring,” Dinino said, adding, “The instance of log violations has all but disappeared” at Emerson Express.

Central Refrigerated Service, West Valley City, Utah, adopted electronic driver logs to ensure hours-of-service compliance, said Allen Lowry, the company’s director of safety.

Like Schneider, Central Refrigerated also ran OmniTracs for years but didn’t switch to electronic logs until 2008 following a Department of Transportation audit.

That audit “didn’t change our status or our rating, but we had difficulties with the hours of service, and so a decision was made internally in the company to go to the electronic logs,” Lowry said. “We just saw a real value in being able to have real-time access to a driver’s logs.”

Central Refrigerated is now in the process of migrating its fleet to the MCP200, which has been deployed on about 75% of its trucks so far, Lowry said.

With paper logs, the company faced the challenge of trying to correct errors that were 50 days old by the time the logs were processed.

Following the transition, the company found electronic logs to be “a major timesaver” for drivers.

“We calculated at one point and it was four days [per year] of wasted time that a driver would take to sit and fill out logs, and try to remember where he was at, and try to identify what city he was closest to and all the issues that came with those paper logs,” he said.

Central Refrigerated ranks No. 58 on the for-hire TT 100.

CSA is probably the biggest driver of EOBR adoption right now because FMCSA’s EOBR rules are “kind of up in the air,” said Clem Driscoll, founder and president of C.J. Driscoll and Associates, a consulting and research firm focused on GPS issues.

“People don’t know quite what’s going to happen now, or when,” he said. “Fleets are not buying EOBR solutions specifically to meet those regulations because they’re too far out.”

They are, however, concerned about their CSA scores, and using electronic logs for hours of service can improve them, he said.

“It’s probably post-implementation of CSA that compliance became a real buzzword,” Driscoll said, adding that regulatory compliance has been motivating a lot of the recent EOBR adoption, especially among midsize and small fleets.

Dave Kraft, director of industry affairs at Qualcomm Enterprise Services, agreed that CSA is the primary driver of EOBR adoption today.

“On the technology side, we’ve got excellent tools and information systems to help carriers manage safety and compliance,” he said. “The carriers that have implemented these systems a few years ago are getting stellar results [under CSA].”

Carriers that are in the process of switching to electronic logs are turning their programs around, he said, because “they have the right tools with the technology and the information systems to help do that.”

However, CSA is a “very tough program” for carriers that try to improve safety and compliance without those tools, Kraft said.

Ryan Barnett, director of market development at XRS, agreed that CSA has been “a real driver” for electronic log adoption, adding that 28,783 firms are over the intervention threshold in the hours-of-service compliance Behavior Analysis and Safety Improvement Category, or BASIC.

“These last two years, the reality of your CSA score being public to the world has brought a lot of people to our doorstep,” he said.

Christian Schenk, senior vice president of product strategy and market growth at XRS Corp., pointed to the upcoming CSA safety fitness determination rule, which FMCSA is expected to issue as early as mid-2013, as “probably the largest opportunity for growth in the EOBR market space” prior to a mandate. The rule will act as the measuring stick for deciding if a carrier is fit to retain its operating authority.

“That will open up additional scrutiny,” he said, and carriers could face remedial directives that force them to implement EOBRs if their scores are below tolerance.

“You’re going to see a lot of midmarket guys who are going to be pulled into that, and a lot of smaller fleets are going to need to do something,” Schenk added.

Meanwhile, fleets and providers of in-cab systems continue to look ahead to an expected EOBR mandate.

MAP-21, the $105 billion transportation funding law signed by President Obama in July, requires FMCSA to develop a final EOBR rule by October, with the rule taking effect in 2015.

However, Qualcomm’s Kraft projected that the final regulation won’t be in place until in late 2014 and would likely be followed by a four- or five-year implementation process.