BLOOMINGTON, ILL – The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will soon require truck drivers to replace their paper logs with electronic logging devices (ELDs). ELDs synchronize with a truck’s engine to automatically record data such as time spent on the road, miles driven, location and engine hours in real time.

“Electronic logging devices are designed to improve road safety by more accurately tracking a driver’s time behind the wheel,” says Paul Rasmussen, soybean farmer from Genoa, Ill., and Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) director. “The advanced features of ELDs can help reduce idle time, improve route planning and minimize fuel consumption and downtime, overall providing a positive return on investment.”

Paper logs always have been a requirement for commercial truck drivers. But handwriting can be difficult to read and paper logs are more difficult to submit to a governing body. Electronic logs are easier to keep track of rule violators. All data is saved in downloadable files for reporting.

Most farmers who haul soybeans will not be required to add ELDs due to exemptions, including:

  • Agricultural exemption §395.1(k)
  • Operating “covered farm vehicles” §395.1(s)
  • Operating under one of the short-haul exceptions listed in §395.1(e)
  • Operating vehicles older than model year 2000

“If you’ve been operating trucks within an ag exemption, there’s no change,” says Rasmussen. “But if you have drivers using paper logs now, you’ll need to switch to electronic logs.”

The FMCSA grants drivers delivering agricultural commodities an exemption as well. If the hauls are within 150 air miles, the driver does not need to log driving time or mileage. However, once drivers go beyond that zone, they must use an ELD and follow all hours of service rules.

Expect Higher Basis

ELDs already are tracking the movement of many trucks carrying Illinois soybeans and other grains out of the state and to export markets.

Charles DeLong, DeLco transport manager for The DeLong Co., Inc. of Clinton, Wisc., oversees approximately 50 trucks in the heavy vehicle class. “We should offset the ELD operation cost with labor savings,” says DeLong. “The ELDs we use have GPS chips that allow us to track vehicle movement so we can now monitor deliveries in real time.”

The majority of DeLong trucks operate within 150 air miles of their respective plants, so they are not required to have ELD technology. Currently, 12 trucks in the company’s fleet have ELDs, which cost approximately $1.80 per day per device to operate. The DeLong Company is a grain elevator and major supplier of food grains domestically and internationally. It also provides seed, fertilizer and chemical inputs and services for growers in Illinois and Wisconsin.

One of DeLong’s biggest challenges is finding enough drivers, especially seasonally. “Nationwide there’s a truck driver shortage,” he says. “ELDs will only contribute to the shortage. Many drivers near retirement age are retiring early because they don’t want to implement ELDs.”

Under the ELD rule, truckers may only drive 11 hours during any 24-hour period. Drivers can only be on duty a total of 14 hours consecutively, including the 11 hours of drive time. After 11 hours, drivers must rest and be off-duty for at least 10 consecutive hours.

DeLong anticipates ELD regulations will increase grain basis, especially during harvest. “Anything that causes a delay increases basis,” he concludes. “In our case, our limited driver pool will impact basis. We have to use all available drivers during harvest. There is always a time or labor shortage pressure. The hours of service restrictions will limit us further.”

Small Fleets Feel the Most Impact

Most big trucking companies and those with medium-size fleets are using ELDs. The new regulation creates an added cost for small trucking companies not under the exemptions.

ELDs will be mandated because some of the larger trucking companies had bad safety records when drivers violated hours, according to Don Schaefer, executive vice president of the Mid-West Truckers Association in Springfield, Ill.

“The little guys – those with fewer than 20 trucks – are stuck with the same regulations,” says Schaefer, “but they don’t have the same human and financial resources to implement ELDs as large companies.”

Schaefer notes many small truckers have not yet implemented ELDs. Transplace, a leading provider of transportation management services and logistics technology, released results from an ELD survey in September. The survey, which included responses from more than 400 carriers of various profiles, showed that 81 percent of large fleets with more than 250 trucks had achieved full ELD implementation. Conversely, only 33 percent of small fleets with fewer than 250 trucks had fully integrated ELD devices into their fleet.

“The small guys just haven’t done it,” Schaefer says. “The per-unit cost is not cheap, and you’ve got a lot of fixed costs. It doesn’t matter if you have one truck or a thousand, the fixed costs are the same. The little guy is going to bear a bigger burden in terms of installing an ELD.”

Another challenge is the ELD technology itself, according to Schaefer. “There are more than 200 different ELD models,” he says. “The Department of Transportation does not certify them, and we hear quite a few reports where they don’t work correctly.”

90-Day Waiver Granted

The agricultural industry, especially livestock haulers, has voiced concerns over how to manage their hours of service.

“The ELD rule presents some serious challenges for livestock haulers and the animals in their care,” says National Pork Producers Council President Ken Maschhoff, pork producer from Carlyle, Ill. “We’re asking to exempt truckers transporting hogs, cattle and other livestock from this regulation because they have a moral obligation to care for the animals they’re hauling.”

As a result of industry concerns, the FMCSA announced a 90-day waiver for agriculture commodities. This waiver will begin Dec. 18 to allow FMCSA more time to evaluate issues revolving around the hours of service requirements.

Trucks lacking ELDs won’t be put out of service beginning Dec. 18, the deadline for compliance. If drivers have a paper log but not an ELD for the next 90 days, they’ll receive a citation that won’t affect the carrier’s safety score. Beginning April 1, 2018, trucks without ELDs will be taken out of service.