Omnitracs' Road Ahead blog

ELD Mandate: Fixed Devices vs. Mobile Devices

Tom Cuthbertson
VP of Regulatory Compliance

The short list of life’s inevitabilities is growing. If you’re the driver or operator of commercial vehicles, joining death and taxes are electronic logging devices. The bright side is that with ELDs, what starts as “has to” almost universally leads to “wants to”!

The new ELD mandate, which takes effect, Dec. 16, 2017, remains somewhat controversial, but it’s clear that the law won’t be changed and that the deadline won’t be pushed back. So, with only 14 months to go before the federal mandate requiring most commercial drivers and trucks to move to electronic logging, it’s time to evaluate your equipment options and select the right devices—and the software and communications systems underlying them.           

One of the first decisions you’ll need to make, whether you are a one truck owner-operator, a technology manager for a huge fleet, or the owner or manager of a small fleet, is which kind of ELD — fixed or mobile — makes the most sense for your operation. Choosing between them is a decision with long-term impacts on your operations, your costs, your ability to use data effectively to lower your expenses, and even your driver satisfaction and retention.

Fixed ELDs      

As the term implies, fixed or onboard ELDs are installed in the cabs of trucks and can be unclipped from the mounts for the driver display to be inspected outside of the vehicle by enforcement. Such devices display critical hours-of-service data to the driver, including the number of hours driven in a given period of time, on-duty hours in that same period, and how many hours the driver has left under legal, company and/or contractual day limits. Typically, that same data can be seen by fleet managers, safety managers, dispatchers or others. And they can see that data either in real time or via period updates transmitted via the truck’s on-board wireless communications system.

Though it’s possible that fixed ELDs could be operated as standalone systems, in almost every case the electronic logging aspect is just one of a suite of digital monitoring and reporting capabilities. Essentially, they are computers that monitor, record and report on things like routes taken, driver compliance with traffic and company rules, and the health of the engine, transmission, braking and other mechanical systems performance.

Effectively analyzing all that data can help save operating and maintenance costs. It can be used to provide valuable coaching to drivers to improve their accelerator and brake usage, their gear selection, their following distances and other performance issues. It can be used to improve gas mileage through altering the mechanical setup of individual trucks, additional driver coaching or both, and save time by recognizing a truck’s location and re-routing around unseen backups.

Such devices are almost tamper proof, meaning they aren’t likely to be stolen. They are not reliant on a driver’s cell phone or mobile device for communication, and they allow for great system uniformity across a fleet.

Mobile ELDs

Mobile ELDs can take the form of rugged handhelds (like the devices UPS delivery drivers use), tablets, or even smart phones which serve as “hardware agnostic” delivery vehicles for specialized software that not only logs/tracks/reports driver hours, but also provides the same wide array of productivity and performance applications available via proprietary device solutions

These devices are gaining market share rapidly, in part because of their ease of use and mobility. They are also relatively low cost compared to full-featured fixed devices.  Mobile ELDs are especially popular among owner-operators and operators of small fleets because of their low cost, relative simplicity and ease of installation and operation. 

However, as mobile devices, they inherently are more vulnerable to theft, damage or loss. That means there is a risk/reward equation inherent in deciding between a higher cost fixed device and a mobile device. Additionally, because they are mobile, drivers can take their devices with them on walk-around inspections or into restaurants and hotels where they can be used to complete load management and delivery forms. Mobile ELDs also can be used to stay connected with family and friends or watch favorite TV shows or movies during their downtime on the road.  Those certainly aren’t critical safety or operational uses, but when used with proper restraint they can help improve driver satisfaction and retention.  More and more, however, even fixed ELD solutions are supporting wifi, social networking, and multimedia, so expect the lines to continue to blur between the two solutions, particularly as market demands fuel ELD innovation.