Ex-FMCSA chief urges Canadian carriers to look closely at ELDs

DAVENPORT, Wash.  – As Ottawa prepares to roll out the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate next summer, a former FMCSA administrator is urging Canadian carriers to look closely at the back-office system of each device before deciding to deploy it.

Annette M. Sandberg

“It is really incumbent upon the carriers to look closely at the system and not just accept any system because it was certified by a third party,” said Annette M. Sandberg, who led the U.S.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration from late 2002 to early 2006. “They need to make sure any system they pick has appropriate back-office tools to support their operations, and ensure their drivers are compliant with the hours-of-service (HoS) regulations.” Sandberg, who is now the CEO of TransSafe Consulting in Davenport, Wash., told Today’s Trucking in an interview Thursday that the technical spec’s only talk about what the ELD should capture.

“But if they don’t provide tools to sort through hundreds of drivers, how do carriers identify guys that may be using personal conveyance improperly, or doing other things that they shouldn’t be doing?” she asked.

Ex-FMCSA chief urges Canadian carriers to look closely at ELDs

The U.S. launched the program in phases starting 2017 and ending in December 2019, when drivers using automatic on-board recording devices (AOBRDs) were required to convert to ELDs. In Canada, ELDs become mandatory in June 2021. In March, Transport Canada opened the certification process, which is being handled by the Standards Council of Canada under guidelines set by the ELD Certification Stakeholder Advisory Committee.

“As the application process is underway, Transport Canada is not in a position to share further information about applicants at this time,” the agency said in an email to Today’s Trucking when asked for an update.

Shoddy U.S. ELDs

While third-party certification is compulsory in Canada, the U.S. government relied on self-certification of the devices, resulting in shoddy products flooding the American market. There have been many complaints, and in an incident late last year, one provider advised drivers that paper logs may be required for backup, defeating the very purpose of having ELDs.

“I think it’s going to take a while to shake out the really bad ones.”

– Annette M.

Sandberg, former FMCSA administrator.

“I don’t think it’s been resolved, partly because the FMCSA hasn’t had a chance to investigate a lot of companies. I know they’re starting to do investigations,” said Sandberg. “I think it’s going to take a while to shake out the really bad ones.”

So far, the FMCSA has revoked approval of some 20 devices, but many more are expected to be added to that list. And just last week, Continental discontinued new sales of its RoadLog ELD, due to what it called unforeseen market conditions. That shows the risk of choosing devices from providers who are not going to be around for the long-term.

Sandberg said companies are now realizing that they need to have more robust servers and processes. “I mean, they’re all competing for market share. And now, it will be interesting to see how many go out of business with this Covid thing as freight rates drop.”

HoS compliance

The ELDs, however, have helped improve compliance with the HoS rule, Sandberg said.

The rule regulates the number of hours a day a driver may operate. Some drivers are still finding loopholes with the system, though. One way of cheating is to unplug the device and then move, Sandberg said.

“And, the only way you’re going to catch that is if the ELD provider looks at odometer jumps, or is in some way measuring rpm, even when the device isn’t plugged in, where they suddenly say, ‘Oh, we’ve lost all rpm, but we know that the truck is on.'” Sandberg said the best system she had seen are the ones that actually track odometer jumps.

Safety impact

“One of the things that we’re seeing is more cars crashing into trucks. And, what’s unfortunate about that is it’s still considered a truck-involved, death, even though the car was at fault.”

– Annette M.

Sandberg, former FMCSA director

Last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration projected a 1% increase in 2019 fatalities involving large trucks. Sandberg, however, believes it has nothing to do with ELDs. “One of the things that we’re seeing is more cars crashing into trucks.

And, what’s unfortunate about that is it’s still considered a truck-involved, death, even though the car was at fault.”

Sandberg blamed those crashes on distracted driving, which she said had become a “huge, huge problem” in the U.S.

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