A former administrator of FMCSA weighs in on the problems still plaguing the ELD rule

  Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

Beyond the Hours of Service rule that is under consideration for changes by the federal government, the introduction of the hard ELD rule has created several other less-publicized problems, a speaker told the FTR conference in Indianapolis.

Annette Sandberg, the president of TransSafe Consulting and an administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration under President George W. Bush, told the conference that the “grace period” between the soft launch last December and the hard launch on April 1 was “desperately needed.” Sandberg works with carriers that she said range from one or two trucks all the way up to 5,000 trucks, so she’s seen the struggles that the agency and local law enforcement are having with the rule. Her remarks didn’t last long, but she covered a lot of ground in spelling out current problems.

The rollout and the aftermath: Sandberg said FMCSA was “not remotely ready” for the launch last December, and hadn’t seriously begun to train local law enforcement officials–who would be writing the citations and taking trucks out of service for violations–until last October or November. “A lot of law enforcement officials were totally unprepared for it,” she said.

One of the biggest issues Sandberg said she is still seeing is the issue of being able to transfer files from the ELD to another platform so they can be reviewed. The transfer rule applies only to ELDs, not to the Automatic Onboard Recording Device (AOBRD), which can still be used through mid-December of next year. The AOBRD rules do not require the ability to transfer data, “but we’re seeing a significant number of violations on the roadside where the officer is writing the driver up for not being able to transfer the file,” Sandberg said. “But it’s for an AOBRD.” Sandberg said her firm spends a “lot of time challenging those violations.”

“I suspect we will continue to see this kind of problem and confusion both for enforcement but also from the driver community,” Sandberg said. “A lot of drivers don’t know what they have in their truck. I suspect we will continue to see those issues util December of next year.” At that time, all drivers will need to be using an ELD with the ability to transfer files.

Technology specifications: Sandberg noted that the ELD rule is more than 460 pages, but that the last few hundred pages are all technology specifications. There also is a list of more than 340 registered vendors of ELDs, “and most of those names nobody ever heard of, which made them suspect immediately.” Sandberg suggested that their ELD product was probably “created in a garage in the back of somebody’s house,” and that has been “borne out…as we’ve seen a number of vendors struggle in meeting the technology requirements.”

The end result is that some truck drivers have lemons for their telematics. A small carrier that didn’t have a great deal of resources to investigate their ELD suppliers may have ended up buying solely on cost, Sandberg said. “If you bought a cheap system, that is exactly what you have, a cheap system.” Sandberg said the problems of inferior systems will be aggravated as the users of grandfathered AOBRD systems eventually transfer into full ELDs.

That transition will probably lead to a concurrent shakeout of ELD providers, Sandberg said, because they won’t be able to be compliant with the technology demands of the ELD rule. Those technology rules are in flux, according to Sandberg, and her firm has been working with FMCSA to adjust them “and make them more realistic.”

FMCSA has been taking in file transfers from the ELDs through its email portal, Sandberg said. Some individual companies are so troubled that their reports of problems are 6-7 pages long, while others might just have 5-6 issues. “If you’re looking to change systems, I would strongly ask any vendor, what kind of list did you get from FMCSA on file transfer, what are your problems and what are you doing to correct them?” Sandberg said.

Proposed changes in HOS rules: Sandberg spoke about FMCSA’s advanced notice of proposed rulemaking–an ANOPR in Washington-speak–and said it was preferable to the “guidance” that FMCSA has been using to help ease some of the sting of the ELD mandate and bring in some flexibility. (She did say, however, that the personal conveyance guidance issued in late May “significantly expanded” what was allowed under the earlier interpretations of the rule).

The ANOPR covers several issues regarding HOS rules: the 30-minute break rule; short-haul driving; the split sleeper berth rule, allowing more flexibility in how the 10-hour rest period is taken; and the “adverse conditions” rule which would continue the rule of allowing more driving hours during adverse conditions but which would also expand the 14-hour day during those periods by two hours.

Sandberg indicated she thought FMCSA would adopt “one or two” changes, but not the entire list of suggested shifts. She did not state which ones she thought would be adopted, but she did speak positively about the recent results of an American Transportation Research Institute study regarding the benefits of split sleeper berth allowances.

According to a prepared statement released by ATRI at the time of the late August release of the report, the institute looked at scenarios where the required 8 and 2 rest period was substituted by combinations of 7 and 3 or 6 and 4. “Under the flexible hours, the driver was able to avoid congestion, and completed a 585 mile trip with 45 fewer minutes of drive time,” the statement said. “Similar results were also found for 7/3 and 5/5 split scenarios.” (The report defines the 8/2 rule as “(d)rivers using the sleeper berth provision must take at least 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, plus a separate 2 consecutive hours either in the sleeper berth, off duty, or any combination of the two.”)

Part of the motivation of FMCSA in proposing its ANOPR was to stay a step ahead of Congressional action that would mandate changes, Sandberg said. But beyond that, she urged the industry to submit comments on the ANOPR. “What they really need is that they are asking for cost/benefit analyses,” Sandberg said. “They absolutely have to have that to push a rule.”


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John Kingston

John has an almost 40-year career covering commodities, most of the time at S&P Global Platts. He created the Dated Brent benchmark, now the world’s most important crude oil marker. He was Director of Oil, Director of News, the editor in chief of Platts Oilgram News and the “talking head” for Platts on numerous media outlets, including CNBC, Fox Business and Canada’s BNN. He covered metals before joining Platts and then spent a year running Platts’ metals business as well. He was awarded the International Association of Energy Economics Award for Excellence in Written Journalism in 2015. In 2010, he won two Corporate Achievement Awards from McGraw-Hill, an extremely rare accomplishment, one for steering coverage of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster and the other for the launch of a public affairs television show, Platts Energy Week.

One Comment

  1. I have the perfect solution. Paper log books that can be adjusted to fit the legal requirements and still provide HOS records.

  2. There’s no benefit, only cost!! Why try to fix what isn’t broke??‍♂️

    Paper Logs???

  3. wow,, what gobbylygook talk… too much crap for drivers to do, Im sorry, but i was happy for years under 10-8 rules, then the change to 11-10. (without all this latest garbage) was fine too,, but wow, i do feel for the industry, drivers only.. the companys and the Feds really screwed this whole thing up, and i hope that someday it will get fixed, sorted out.. i quit after 28 years, just 1 1/2 years ago, before this mess started, i just saw the writing on the wall. shame thou,. but happy with my decision, hope the industry returns trucking to the driver, as it should be, but i have doubts that drivers will ever be back to a status of what they once were. Good luck to you drivers.

  4. It don’t surprised me you put a woman over the safety of motor vehicles. This woman have no idea how trucking works…Sandburg need get her ass in a truck and ride for a week. These us congress people on capital hill , need to leave the system along, it not broken…I been driving 24 yrs , they need to focus on getting the fuel rates down, and better pay… Making all these rules , with no safe haven in many state being closed down..the general 4 wheelers need to be educated on the rules.. Better yet where all the money coming from to upgrade all these ELD equipment…congress a fucking joke…