Navigating the ELD Maze

Mazes have a history that spans thousands of years. They can be a convoluted entanglement of hedges, corn, wood, or mirrors. Or they can be made of the regulations FMCSA created on the use of electronic logging devices.

As the deadline for ELD compliance approaches, the array of choices has become larger and more overwhelming.

I’ve seen a few helpful magazine articles, like this ELD buyer’s guide from Commercial Carrier Journal (http://www.ccjdigital.com/eld-buyers-guide/#5). But honestly, who has the time? I read one ELD review that listed 50 choices. Fifty!

Before you take off pitting one ELD versus another (and another…), the best first step is to evaluate what you really need in your operation. Here are a few tips to help you start out on the right foot:

1. Don’t rush. I know, carriers and drivers who use paper logs or logging software must transition to ELDs no later than December 18. But a hasty decision may leave you stuck long-term with an ELD that’s not right for your business. Are you looking for a total fleet management system with the capability to track trucks and drivers? You’ll need a system that offers an ELD (think GeoTab, Telogis, OmniTracs, PeopleNet). Or do you just want to comply with the rule? If that’s the case, an ELD may be all you need.

2. Can your smartphone be an ELD? If you’re a single-truck owner-operator, you don’t need a fancy-schmancy fleet management system. You know where your truck is! What could be simpler, then, than logging hours of service on a smartphone?

FMCSA makes it crystal clear that requirements for an ELD on a smartphone are the same as any dedicated device, including the fact that it has to sync up with the engine control module to automatically record engine power status, vehicle motion status, and other data. Sounds complicated but there are apps for that (think KeepTruckin, Big Road).

3. What about IFTA and other mileage-based taxes? Do you want to collect the distance for quarterly IFTA and mileage tax returns? Remember that hours of service and distance-based tax reports are very different. One focuses on the driver, the other on the truck. The No. 1 thing to keep in mind is that you can’t simply use the vendor’s distance-by-jurisdiction report for your returns. It’s up to you to make sure your device and vendor can support you with the records and raw data you’ll need during an audit. There is no such thing as an “IFTA-approved” ELD. Don’t get caught in that part of the maze.

4. Will an AOBRD do the job? If you have an AOBRD (automated on-board recording device), you’re good until December 2019. The difference between an ELD and an AOBRD is where the truck and driver data link up. An ELD means that the truck and driver data link up somewhere in the truck. An AOBRD allows for the truck data and the driver data to come from two separate devices and link up at a location other than the truck. This might be a good option if you already have a GPS fleet management system installed. An AOBRD will let you use the truck data you already collect and marry it to data collected, for example, on a smartphone or tablet at the server level. Be sure your AOBRD vendor will turn the system into an ELD by December 2019.

5. Do you have to use the ELD data for reporting IFTA? Absolutely not. ELD vendors are trying to prove a more robust ROI for their solution by including an IFTA distance-by-jurisdiction summary as part of their product offering. Using GPS data collected by any fleet management or ELD solution can make your IFTA reporting easier. But if you don’t check the data and store it according to the IFTA rules, you could be in for a big shock come audit time.

6. Set a deadline to have a system in place. For example, a June 1 deadline gives you time to ensure you and your fleet will be ready for the December 18 compliance date and a cushion to deal with problems. While Point 1 of this article is “don’t rush,” you do have to get to work.

The ELD mandate has been years in the making and there have been plenty of wrong turns and dead ends along the way. With the deadline closing in, there’s not a lot of wiggle room as you search for an ELD that will comply with the rule and make your business more efficient.

Sandy Johnson has been managing IFTA, IRP, and other fleet taxes for more than 25 years. She is the author of the book, “7 Things You Need to Know About Fleet Taxes,” and operates North Star Fleet Solutions, which provides vehicle tax and license compliance services for trucking operations. She can be reached at 877-860-8025 or northstarfleet.com.

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