The ability of drivers to provide law enforcement officers access to data though a number of technologies as proposed in the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposed electronic logging device (ELD) rule will help contain costs for fleets and encourage innovation, leading ELD suppliers say.

Other aspects of the proposed new regulation generally favored by major vendors include a proposed ELD registration and certification process and FMCSA’s decision to set out performance standards for ELDs as opposed to design standards, which is the path chosen in Europe.

FMCSA on March 13 announced its supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM) to mandate ELDs, define supporting documents for hours-of-service compliance and address the issue of driver harassment that had led to an earlier rule being overturned in court. The proposed rule also would establish performance standards for ELDs to replace the existing standards for automatic onboard recording devices (AOBRDs). If the ELD standards are adopted as proposed, all the major suppliers are confident they will be able to meet the requirements through software changes alone.

Although FMCSA announced its SNPRM on March 13, the document has yet to be published in the Federal Register. Once it is published, the public will have 60 days to comment.

Data transfer

The SNPRM would allow the transfer of log data through a variety of technologies, including web services, USB, Bluetooth, printing - even QR codes and encrypted e-mail. And while printing complies, it’s not required. ELDs would have to offer users at least two data transfer options. Regardless of the option used, however, the ELD would have to provide the law enforcement officer with graph-grids for the current 24-hour period and the previous 7 days, either on a display or on a printout.

Contrary to the European model based on a tachograph, a driver identification card and a printer, the SNPRM allows for many options for transmitting of data, notes Brian McLaughlin, president of PeopleNet. “It allows for current and future devices to use their strengths; there are devices that could just print something out.”

“We are glad to see they have provided so many different options,” says Ryan Barnett, director of market development for XRS Corp. “We are also glad that they didn’t require a printer but allowed an opportunity for one.”

One requirement that likely will trip up some smaller players is FMCSA’s proposed requirement for a graphical display or printout. “There are vendors in the market that will have to change their display, and that could be a challenge for them,” Barnett said.

Data transfer and device certification were two areas that previously were very challenging, says Eric Witty, vice president of product management for Cadec Global. “For data transfer, they provided options which allow technology vendors to continue to provide new products and take advantage of new technology and not be limited by a very specific data transfer method.”

Omnitracs believes there might be opportunities to make the availability of information from the device to the roadside inspector simpler, says Dale Smith, senior program manager. Regardless of the technology, there needs to be a clear understanding and consistent enforcement, and FMCSA should not constrain suppliers from providing better solutions in the future, he says. There could be some technical issues with certain transfer technologies, such as securing Bluetooth and ensuring that the law enforcement officer’s device doesn’t remember the driver’s ELD after the inspection, he says.

Self-certification

FMCSA proposes to allow ELD vendors to register and self-certify their devices according to specific standards. Although this process might not be as rigorous as a third-party certification process, it’s more than what exists now, which is nothing. The ELD provision in the 2012 highway program law known as MAP-21 required FMCSA to establish the criteria and process for certification. Under FMCSA’s proposal, vendors would have to register their products and then self-certify the systems as meeting test requirements that the agency establishes.

“The self-certification proposal and guidelines for that was a positive step,” says Omnitracs’ Smith.

Self-certification and third-party certification each have their pros and cons, says PeopleNet’s McLaughlin. “Self-certification allows suppliers to move more rapidly, but it also brings in risks of fly-by-night providers.” Even so, based on experience with current systems, the industry probably would be fine with no certification process at all, he says. “The market seems to take care of providers that don’t supply compliant systems. It’s pretty well self-policed today.”

Cadec's Witty also believes the market has been effective at policing vendors, but he welcomes the FMCSA's approach of self-certification with registration. "A little more rigor around the process is good," he says.

“We are happy to see the certification even if it is not third-party,” XRS Corp.’s Barnett says. “We wanted some kind of rigor to the certification process.”

Even without third-party certification there is a process and a submission to FMCSA to get on an approved vendor list. Without such a process, there are companies today selling products that don’t meet current standards, Barnett says. A self-certification process probably will bring the total number of vendors from 80 or so to 10 to 20, he says.

Grandfathered devices

As with the vacated rule governing electronic logs, the SNPRM gives fleets that use existing devices meeting today’s standards more time to adopt the new ELDs. The SNPRM’s grandfather provision is narrower than the one in the first rule in that it lasts only four years rather than however long the carrier owns the truck in which the device is installed.

Major suppliers believe the new grandfather provision is appropriate and shouldn’t be an issue anyway given that they should be able to comply with the new standard through software.

McLaughlin also believes that a defined grandfather period makes sense because it is the market reality anyway. “The technology evolution cycle is much faster than in the past. The days of putting in a system and having it last 10 or 15 years are over.”

Like the American Trucking Assns., Omnitracs recognizes that there might be some concerns over the narrower grandfather provision. “From a business perspective, older devices will need to change to meet some roadside provisions,” Smith says. “From our customers’ standpoint, those who have invested may have concerns. It will be a cost measure that they will have to consider.”

XRS Corp. also welcomes the grandfather provision. Barnett also notes that a defined-term grandfather might encourage a more orderly purchase decision than one that allows the carrier to lock in the technology indefinitely and encourage the industry to take advantage of the best technology available.  While there’s no indication that carriers would rush out to buy devices meeting current standards like fleets might do with trucks to avoid technology changes mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency, the new grandfather language would make that less likely, he says.

Other issues

Major suppliers are generally pleased that FMCSA was more specific in some technical areas than in the final rule that was thrown out by the appeals court.

“We are happy to see the additional technical specification in the new proposed regulation, specifically the functionality requirements for communications between the ELD and the ECM,” says Hass Machlab, president of ISE Fleet Services, which provides electronic log software to fleets directly and through a number of telematics providers.

“Keeping the synchronization to the vehicle was critical,” McLaughlin says.

"After initial review of the rule, it appears that several changes will be needed to our current products to meet specifications, mainly in the area of data exchange and the proposed specific formats, but the rule touches details of many areas of a typical HOS application," Cadec's Witty says.

One concern shared by the major providers is the tight time frame. Vendors can’t really begin writing code until the rule is finalized because even small changes from the proposal could wreck all the work done before that, McLaughlin notes. So suppliers will have two years to code, test and certify a system that complies with those standards. That’s a tight schedule, he says.

Another perpetual challenge is dealing with the personal conveyance issue, but FMCSA added a wrinkle by requiring that the precision of vehicle location be degraded when the vehicle is used as a personal conveyance.

“The personal conveyance issue – reporting of the position – that’s an interesting paradigm in today’s world,” Smith says. “I don’t see a technical challenge, but how that’s enforced, managed, regulated, etc., will be a challenge. It’s not so much a concern of can we do it but making sure we are on the same page.”

ATA has raised some concerns over this provision on the grounds that carriers should be able to know where their equipment and freight are.

XRS has concerns over the proposal to allow drivers to edit some portion of their logs, a provision that was added to address the driver harassment issue, Barnett says. The SNPRM says drivers must be allowed to edit certain data elements and must be given access to their logs for up to six months.

“Today that’s not a recommended procedure,” Barnett says. “For us that has always been done at the fleet manager level.”

While there are other concerns, one thing is clear: There will be issues related to ELDs that will arise only after the devices are in the field, Barnett says. “When you put this in the hands of 3.1 million drivers, these systems will definitely be tested.”