Five Unifying Values of the ELD Debate

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  • December 12, 2017
  • by Chris Posey
  • eld, FMCSA, HOS,
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Even with the FMCSA’s ELD mandate implementation less than a week away, new protests and social media movements continue to surface. The mandate has been highly polarizing in the trucking industry, with significant proponents, such as the ATA, and equally significant opponents, such as the OOIDA, joining the fray. To remove ourselves from the dispute and gain some perspective on this divisive issue, perhaps it would be appropriate to reaffirm some of the timeless values contributing to the ELD debate that are likely shared by both sides.

The safety of truck drivers

Regarding safety, both sides have compelling stances, and it seems a point about which no argument could possibly be made. Beyond debates about the particular tool used to measure drive duration, one must understand that at the heart of the ELD debate is simply the desire for drivers to be able to focus on the most important part of their job: safely and efficiently delivering customer orders. Beyond an arbitrary YES/NO to the prospect of using an electronic device to monitor driving duration, managers of fleets both massive and minuscule and businesses large and small should be reminded that driver safety is not a function of politics but is indeed one of responsible fleet management.

The integrity of Trucking as an institution

Perhaps you’ve heard Winston Churchill’s anecdote about degrees of morality? In the interests of keeping things appropriate, some details have been modified, but it goes something like this:

“Churchill: “Madam, would you [steal that iPhone] for five million pounds?”

Socialite: “My goodness, Mr. Churchill… Well, I suppose… we would have to discuss terms, of course… “

Churchill: “Would you [steal that iPhone] for five pounds?”

Socialite: “Mr. Churchill, what kind of person do you think I am?!”

Churchill: “Madam, we’ve already established that. Now we are haggling about the price”

Over the course of the ELD debate, both sides have been careful to avoid the suggestion that some drivers may be falsifying their handwritten logs – and avoiding the accusation for good reason! The trucking industry currently employs 3.5 million hard-working, honest, dependable, reliable truck drivers who simply want to make an honest wage1. And while the number of drivers who may grossly, intentionally, and dramatically falsify logs is surely quite small, the number of people who may “fudge” a little because they were dealing with parking, stop-and-go traffic, parking, gas station slowdowns, parking, and construction (and did I mention parking?) may be a just a tad higher.

Statistics about those who make very minor, otherwise harmless adjustments to their logs are elusive, but the number of violators is not the point. The point is that the integrity of Trucking as an institution is at hand, and there are few quantifiable indicators of success in this particular realm. Those in the trucking industry must see themselves, not only as individual workers toiling away at the steering wheel of a Class 8 truck but also as members of an institution that accounts for just over 1% of the total US population1. Accuracy in reporting bolsters public opinion in most disciplines, and truck-driving is no different. Selling out on accuracy, whether it’s for five million pounds (hours) or five pounds (hours), hurts the reputation of this venerable institution.

ELD Debate - Tesla Electric Truck

While your fleet may not include this ultra-modern Tesla electric class 8 rig, it probably does include some moderately recent advances in stability control (and FM radio).

The modernization of the trucking industry

Do you use your smartphone to complain about the ills of modernization? To vilify the evil, irresistible progress of tech in our simple lives? How many times have I seen a lament about the need to return to the “good old days” that was originally posted at gig speed via a power laptop attached wirelessly to an invisible network? Tweeter, I call thou hypocrite!

Consider your truck. Does it have a telematics system installed? Does it have antilock braking? Stability control? Any collision avoidance systems? Fuel savings systems? How about this: Are you in a mass-produced vehicle that has an engine and wheels? If you are, then you have opened wide and swallowed what was at one time a devil of modernization. However, without modernization, my job would not exist, and likely neither would yours, dear reader. So before you lament the “good old days” of trucking, when all you needed was a truck and a paper logbook, consider all of the implications of returning to those good old days: terrible gas mileage (yes, it was at one time worse than the 5.29 miles per gallon the average Class 8 driver enjoys today), unreliable braking systems, cantankerous transmissions, 40’ blind spots, no air conditioning, and perhaps worst of all, radios that received only AM broadcasts.

Might it not be time for the trucking industry to adopt a somewhat more modern tool to record the very same driving activity it has been asked to record for years previous? One that electronically captures drive time and distance? An unassuming tool that merely integrates the benefits of a watch and an odometer into a single, brightly-lit display?

The value of reliable data

As a marketer, one of the most frustrating aspects of my job is that of dealing regularly with subjectivity. What is “good”? What is “effective”? What is “relevant”? What is “interesting”? I have crafted many a five-paragraph essay defending unwieldy opinions during my career. If I were able to dredge up three reasons that supported my thesis on quality (or the lack thereof), I felt I had done my job sufficiently. Then one day, I was introduced to data, and I realized that there was something elegantly (albeit, frustratingly) stronger than the amorphous sentiment I had been using to justify my decisions in the past. The pristine data that began appearing on my screen as a result of my epiphany would weave itself into near-tangible, undeniable revelations of validity, like something from The Matrix.

Data is a sword we live by in our jobs. Sales, revenues, donors, SKUs, members, stores, attendees, hours, miles. For better or worse, these are often reduced to and represented by impersonal, unapologetic numbers. Data.

Data gleaned from logs, whether paper or electronic, inform the decisions of fleet managers, dispatchers, and drivers, and reliable data informs reliable decisions. It is in the fleet manager’s best interests to acquire the most reliable, most complete data available, because not only is data the sword we live by, it is also the sword we die by.

The convenience of automation

Admittedly less noble when compared to the other values in this list is the value of convenience.

Full disclosure: I have never had to fill out a driving log, whether it be paper or digital. However, I have, from time to time, forgotten to complete an essential yet pesky task at work, resulting in a nighttime drive to the office in my sleeping pants and slippers to finish my job. What I wouldn’t have given in those times to have had the task at hand automated. It’s not that the task was complicated so much as it was annoying, which likely explains why it was off my radar in the first place.

This is not an argument for laziness. It is an argument for efficiency. The more tactical duties (such as entering our hours into a timesheet or filling out a drive log) that we can automate, the more time we have to devote to more strategic enterprises (or to binge-watching Netflix in our skivvies). Sure, automation serves to make life easier, but the load-lightening is often purposeful. If you can simplify your plight and give yourself a little extra time to make an additional delivery or two as a result, why wouldn’t you? And with that, our previously ignoble pursuit becomes beautifully noble.

In two weeks, we will read this post and think, “ELD debate? Already out of date.” But it is my romantic belief that these principles apply well beyond the scope of an isolated mandate from the FMCSA. While of course, TouchStar stands ready to help you out of a bind with an FMCSA-compliant ELD solution called eLOG, we’re also ready to help you with a bevy of other integrated fleet automation solutions, including telematics solutions, business intelligence solutions, planning solutions, dispatch solutions, plus a large handful of useful, Android-based mobility apps that will help you do business while adhering to all five of the values presented in this post.

Regardless of where your fleet is on the automation continuum, TouchStar is ready to help. Contact us today to see how we can help your fleet contribute safely to this esteemed trucking industry, with modern tools and reliable data. And with any luck, we might even be able to help you put an end to those late night drives to the office.

Want to read more about the ELD debate, HOS, and FMCSA compliance:

1 – Reports, Trends, & Statistics. http://www.trucking.org/News_and_Information_Reports_Industry_Data.aspx.

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