Can fleets forgo the benefits of electronic logging?

The trucking industry currently has a good hard grip on the problem end of electronic logging. Will the government mandate it? Is this the last stand for battered business confidentiality privileges? What will happen to driver's hours of service?

There is also a benefits end of the electronic log issue, however, and it's high time to give it a look. While this may sound to some like suggesting you let go of the action end of a poisonous snake for a quick peek at the tail, it's essential to do it just the same.

Author Stephen Covey puts it like this: "When we pick up one end of the stick, we pick up the other." (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, New York: Simon & Schuster Inc., 1989). His metaphor is particularly helpful when considering new technologies (or snakes for that matter). In the case of electronic logs, it applies in at least two ways. First of all, the capability exists. We're holding it already, albeit at arm's length, along with all its attendant consequences. Secondly, what if it we've got it wrong end up?

"The benefits of electronic logging are substantial," observes John Shipiro, senior product marketing manager for QUALCOMM Wireless Business Solutions. QUALCOMM recently purchased the proprietary electronic logging solution developed by Werner Enterprises Inc. It will require considerable redesign, however, before it is also usable by other fleets, according to Shipiro, and QUALCOMM is not offering it commercially at this time.

"Assuming a fleet wants to operate legally, and the progressive fleets do, electronic logging can be a big help in load and route planning, for example, because decisions can be based on accurate time data," Shipiro explains. "Drivers using paper logs may also be cheating themselves out of driving time and pay because of inaccuracies. Although they are technically supposed to fill out the log as the day goes along, logs are often 'caught up' from memory when the driver has a scheduled stop."

"Quality of life for drivers can also be improved by electronic logging," offers Bob Rohrer, national sales manager for Eaton Corp's. Trucking Information Services. Eaton's real-time Fleet Advisor system includes electronic logging capability. "Drivers are essentially freed from the paperwork burden, and the task of auditing logs is also streamlined for the fleet manager."

"Almost 80% of our customers, who are mostly private fleets, use the electronic log function available on our system," says Eric Witty, senior product manager for XATA. "It's a matter of efficiency. Often drivers 'find' more time because the electronic log tracks to the minute, while the driver is required to keep paper logs to the nearest 15-minute interval, rounding up or down as necessary. Using an automated system also makes it easier for new drivers to keep professional logs, the way an automatic transmission makes good shifting foolproof even for rookies," Witty adds.

Onboard computing systems, which also offer the ability to automate DOT-required logs, are available from a number of companies, including Cadec, Eaton, Meritor, and XATA. The benefits to be gained by automating logs remain on the table for most fleets, however, while the debates about privacy and hours of service rage on.

As computing tools become more powerful, the attendant potential consequences of their use, "the other end of the stick," will also continue to increase proportionally. This poses an interesting dilemma for trucking that extends far beyond electronic logs: Once a technology exists, can the industry eschew certain of its capabilities while utilizing others? Is it really possible to pick up just one end of a stick?