9 months into ELD mandate, confusion persists

Joe DeLorenzo, director of the Office of Enforcemnt and Compliance for FMCSA, has the inevitable task of attending events such as the Great American Trucking Show last week in Dallas and standing in front of audiences to represent FMCSA’s viewpoint on regulations and enforcement. In the past year, most of the sessions have focused on the electronic logging device (ELD) rule.

While his sessions at GATS this year was not been met with as much anger and finger-pointing as previous sessions have been, it did come with several questions from attendees, even after DeLorenzo spent much of the 60-minute session on Friday going over the common questions and confusion the agency continues to hear from carriers, drivers and law enforcement nearly six months after the hard enforcement date of April 1 and almost 9 months after the first compliance date.

DeLorenzo started the presentation with the common exemptions from the ELD rule, as he noted that drivers continue to use ELDs when they don’t need to. “On at least a weekly basis, I talk to at least one driver or one company that is eligible for an ELD exemption and is not taking advantage of it,” he said.

Those exemptions include:

  • Drivers not required to maintain a Record of Duty Status for more than 8 days in a 30-day period
  • Drivers operating within 100-air-mile radius
  • Drivers operating within a 150-air-mile radius for non-CDL freight drivers
  • Drive-away, tow-away operations where the commodity being delivered is the vehicle itself
  • On vehicles where the engine was manufactured before model-year 2000 or the vehicle was manufactured before model-year 2000.

“When we did the rule, we needed to have a cutoff at some point, where the technology [is more difficult to integrate] or the engine doesn’t have an ECM,” DeLorenzo said. “We chose 2000.”

There are additional exemptions, such as the ag exemption where drivers operating within 150 air miles of the source for ag commodities are exempt. Because hours-of-service rules don’t kick in until the driver leaves that 150-air mile radius, the ELD rule also doesn’t begin until then.

Once the exemptions were addressed, DeLorenzo moved to the top issue facing drivers and roadside inspectors: AOBRDs. Users of AOBRDs are exempt until Dec. 16, 2019, and therefore not subject to the ELD rules.

“The number-one point of confusion on roadside inspections is whether the driver has an AOBRD or ELD,” he said, noting that drivers sometimes don’t know which device they have installed. “The more you know, the easier the inspection goes. Knowing right off the bat whether you have an AOBRD or ELD will make that inspection go easier.”

Some devices can operate in either AOBRD or ELD mode, DeLorenzo said, but when in ELD mode, it is required to meet the specifications, and that includes the driver maintaining a copy of the instruction book and the data transfer sheet, as well as knowing how to transfer the data if requested by law enforcement.

DeLorenzo also touched on something that many drivers have forgotten about, he said, annotations.

“I think when we moved to ELDs, people forgot how to use annotations,” DeLorenzo said. “Annotations are available, so use them to explain away situations.”

The notations can be a great way to explain why the driver forgot to log into the ELD in the morning, or used the vehicle for personal conveyance, or went over driving time. They explain away “unaccounted for driving,” DeLorenzo said.

He also said fleets should remind drivers to log off and on to ELDs.

“You can save yourself a lot of aggravation … by making sure you log out at the end of the day and log in the next morning,” DeLorenzo said. “And that is why we have annotations to deal with unassigned miles.”

In the Q&A portion of the presentation, he touched on what to do if your ELD-exempt engine doesn’t include a model-year label, as required (“keep a copy of the paperwork FMCSA requires you have to have in the office in the truck”), the ag exemptions and personal conveyance.

On the ag exemption, which FMCSA has tried to clarify several times, DeLorenzo reiterated the 150-air-mile exemption for agricultural commodities moving from their “source.” A source can be the field or the grain elevator, he noted.

Even more confusing has been the personal conveyance rule that allows a driver to operate a commercial motor vehicle in an off-duty status if the reason for the operation is personal in nature. This can include going to get something to eat or shop, or to visit relatives. It doesn’t include, though, trips home after dropping off a load.

“The trip home is not personal conveyance,” DeLorenzo said. “You cannot [drop a load] and head home, that is a continuation of the trip.”

To clarify, he noted that FMCSA considers a load to be a round trip, either back to the original location or to the next location for pickup. A commenter asked why a driver going on vacation after dropping a load, or visiting a relative, can be considered to be personal conveyance but a driver returning home is not. “I can only tell you what the rule says,” DeLorenzo answered, with little agreement from the audience. “Going home is considered part of the return trip.”

While some in the audience didn’t seem satisfied with the official’s answers, the routine has become part of the continuing dialogue and ELD education of the industry that FMCSA, it appears, needs to continue.