A full-featured telematics system addresses a full spectrum of fleet needs – not just compliance, but also safety and efficiency – and can actually pay for itself over time from fuel savings, crash avoidance, and maintenance cost reductions.  Image courtesy of Getty Images

A full-featured telematics system addresses a full spectrum of fleet needs – not just compliance, but also safety and efficiency – and can actually pay for itself over time from fuel savings, crash avoidance, and maintenance cost reductions. Image courtesy of Getty Images

There was a mad scramble among fleets to get an ELD solution in place in time for the ELD Mandate deadline of December 2017. Toward the end, the mood was almost frantic. Like a grocery store run before a snowstorm, some fleets were grabbing anything they could off the shelves.

Now, the hangover has begun. Since the ELD Mandate has gone into effect, I have spoken with several fleet managers who have buyer’s remorse, regretting their ELD decision. In most cases, they purchased a light solution that was simple to implement but provides little value other than bare bones hours-of-service (HOS) compliance.

What went wrong and why are they in this situation? These fleets didn’t identify their telematics business requirements prior to selecting an ELD solution, and the one they picked doesn’t meet their needs.

The Downside of 'Light' ELD Tools

In general, there are two types of ELD tools: light, basic HOS compliance tool and full-featured telematics solutions that address a variety of business requirements including safety, efficiency, and compliance.

A light ELD solution typically consists of an easy to install plug-and-play device that connects to the vehicle’s Engine Control Module (ECM). The device uses Bluetooth to connect to the provider’s ELD application, which runs on a smartphone or tablet.  

The primary advantage of this approach is that these devices are easy to install and generally are inexpensive compared to a full-featured ELD/telematics offering. Many fleets procrastinated as the ELD deadline approached – perhaps hoping the mandate would be delayed or overturned. For them, quick install and low cost became attractive options.

Now many of these fleet managers regret their decision. They are realizing that they have many more business needs that need to be addressed.  Here are some additional concerns I’m hearing about low-end ELDs: 

  1. Drivers forget or lose their phone/tablet.
  2. Drivers drop or break their phone/tablet.
  3. Batteries die on the phone/tablet.
  4. Intermittent Bluetooth connections cause HOS logs to not be synced with the ECM.
  5. These systems cannot be expanded or upgraded. 

These challenges keep fleets from keeping accurate HOS records, which is a real problem in a roadside check or audit. At a minimum, ELDs need to automatically log driver HOS, and drivers need to be prepared to share those records upon request at a roadside inspection.

One fleet manager I recently spoke with has a mix of heavy- and light-duty vehicles, different types of routes, and puts a strong emphasis on safety improvements and crash prevention. His management is also interested in efficiency improvements, such as fuel economy. The light ELD tool the fleet purchased does not address any of those issues, and it cannot be upgraded – instead, the fleet has to rip it out and replace it with another system. 

A full-featured telematics system addresses a full spectrum of fleet needs – not just compliance, but also safety and efficiency – and can actually pay for itself over time from fuel savings, crash avoidance, and maintenance cost reductions.

Benefits of Full-Feature ELDs 

The primary driver behind the ELD Mandate is safety, and the need to better track and enforce Hours of Service rules. Since ELDs are now mandatory in trucks anyway, a lot of fleets are looking for them to do more.

A MiX Telematics survey found that fleet management solutions help fleets reduce operating costs by $50-100 per vehicle, per month, after accounting for the cost of the system. This shows that while a bare-bones ELD is likely to cost money, a full-featured one can actually reduce a fleet’s overall operating costs. Here’s how.

1. Improved Compliance

ELDs help with HOS compliance by automating data capture and eliminating the errors associated with paper logs and manual back endpaper processing. They can also help with IFTA compliance and fuel-tax reporting. This automated data capture not only saves fleets time but also reduces their exposure to fines, which in turn improves their CSA score.

2. Improved Safety

Safety is the number one benefit of ELDs and fleet management systems, which can track not only assets but driver behavior such as rapid acceleration, harsh braking, and speeding, in order to create driver scorecards and coach drivers to improve their practices. Some ELD and fleet management systems come equipped with integrated in-cab video that can provide visual evidence for accident reconstruction and insurance subrogation, and features that help eliminate distracted driving. All of this together helps reduce crashes, which in turn may help reduce a fleet’s insurance rates.

3. Improved Efficiency

ELDs obviously eliminate paper use, and that can save a fleet thousands of dollars a year alone. But they also save time on reporting through data integration, and can also help:

  • Increase fuel economy (though improved driver behavior, less idling).
  • Optimize asset utilization.
  • Reduce maintenance costs (less wear and tear on vehicles through improved driver behavior).

One of the frustrations we’re hearing from fleets that went the bare-bones route initially is that their basic systems cannot be upgraded. If they want more functionality, they have to rip and replace, essentially starting over and wasting their initial investment.  When they realize the limitations of their basic ELD system, they tell us they wish they had gone with something more robust from the start.

Factors to Consider in Selection

Whether you are in the market for an ELD solution for the first time or looking to replace a basic ELD tool, here are characteristics to look for in a platform and vendor: 

  • Consultative partnering approach to help fine-tune your business objectives
  • A scalable/modular platform that meets your objectives today, and can scale to meet future requirements
  • Service-oriented approach with dedicated resources aligned to your business objectives to drive desired results and ROI
  • Proactive and reactive customer support
  • Contracted penalties associated with Service Level Agreements
  • State-of-the-art technology with software that can be updated over the air, eliminating the need to manually update units as FMCSA requirements change

If ELD is done right, the system should pay for itself every month.

Related: Drivers Operating Without ELD May Now be Put Out of Service