The makers of ELDs want their devices to do a lot more than just record hours of service

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Three executives with ELD manufacturers see a lot more opportunity in their products than just simply checking on a driver's hours.

And in the process, it's possible that drivers might look upon them less as the enemy that is watching their every move from the dashboard of their tractor and more as a tool to provide information that could make their jobs easier.

The three executives--John Verdon, the head of partnerships at KeepTruckin, Doug Schrier, the vice president of product and innovation at Transflo, and Lauren Domnick, the senior director of analytics and modeling at Omnitracs Data & Analytics--spelled out a variety of ways in which the data gathered by ELDs can be the basis for an entire new package of analytics that can actually help drivers, rather than the equipment being seen as restricting their movements.

The three ELD executives were on a panel entitled Data Don't Care: The Truth Behind the Impact of ELDs, Rates, Regulations and Technology. Brian Reed, FreightWaves executive vice president of supply chain and global strategy, led the panel at the Transparency18 conference in Atlanta earlier this week.

Verdon touched on a theme that had been heard at other times at the meeting: the gathering of data from independent owner operators. Given that their activities in the past had not been part of any fleet that was gathering data, it was like a black hole. "We have not had an idea of what they were doing on regulations," Verdon said.

Now that the data flow is enhanced by the fact that their ELDs are throwing off information, "that can help us drive efficiencies across the board," Verdon said. He cited new data streams on their detention experiences and how much time they spend idling their engines, but Verdon said the goal is not just to collect it for the sake of collecting it; rather, he said, it may be able to be used to provide guidance to drivers for any one of a number of activities.

Domnick said one of the best advantages to current ELD technology is that the first six lines of data from the ELDs are all standardized. There may be 300-plus providers of the equipment, but that flow of data is all the same coming out of them, at least from lines 1-6. It has helped Omnitracs build two predictive analytics models, one predicting accident probability and other on whether a driver is likely to voluntarily terminate employment. The ELDs leave "bread crumbs" that can be used for such models, according to Domnick.

Whether the ELD remains just a record of time and other barebones activities, or whether it can be utilized for much more, is largely up to the users of them, Verdon said. "There's a difference between people who bought a solution and successfully implemented a solution," he said. Or as Schrier said: "I've seen a lot of drivers and fleets go from no ELD to, how do we get the ELD to match our needs?"

Domnick said some of the data has been "eye opening" for the smaller fleets that are just starting to use ELDs and have access to the information coming out of them. For example, she said, drivers operating on a "backward" schedule, with a start time that gets earlier and earlier as their consecutive driving days proceed, are nine times as likely to have an accident than those with a more consistent start time.

With so much focus on ELDs and their impact on forcing drivers to stick to the Hours of Service regulations, it was notable to hear the three panelists talk about how far they think the ELD technology can go in providing information to the trucking industry. "If we can help send them to the right guard shack at a terminal, the right fueling place, all of that turns into more money," Schrier said. And companies are more willing to invest in them, he added, because the market is so tight.

Schrier said information provided through ELDs on parking, if it can be shared, can help reduce that stress. And he added that the data shows that stress is significant; accident frequency rises as a driver approaches the end of the 11th hour of allowable driving.

Another aid to drivers: the need to show geographic location in the tax considerations of per diems can be aided by ELDs.

One trick to fully maximize the data use is its visibility through sharing. All three panelists expressed cautious optimism that such sharing would develop--Verdon mentioned blockchain technology as providing a possible assist with visibility--and said their customers can now share data with whoever they want, such as their brokers and 3Pls. But that isn’t a tool for sharing among the entire industry.

And if the FMCSA does look to revise HOS rules, data provided by ELDs can assist that process, according to Schrier. "With more data it will be a whole lot easier to write the right regulations and make the right calls," he said.