Transitioning from AOBRD to ELD: A Roundtable Discussion

Mike McDonal Director, Regulatory Compliance and Industry Relations – Saucon Technologies

Christian Riddell President – United Bus Technology

Fred Fakkema Vice President, Compliance – Zonar Systems

The “grandfather clause” allowing operators to use automatic on-board recording devices (AOBRDs) in lieu of electronic recording devices (ELDs) is rapidly approaching expiration. Per Section 395.15 of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA)’s final rule on ELDs, operators may continue to use grandfathered AOBRDs no later than December 16, 2019.

BUSRide spoke with these three thought leaders on about making the transition from AOBRDs to certified ELDs – forming a migration plan, preparing company-wide policies, ensuring accurate data transfers, and preparing for device malfunctions:

What preliminary steps should our readers take when forming their migration plans?

Mike McDonal: First of all, you have to realize where you are with your provider. Is it just a software update, or is it hardware and software that need to be done? Is there is any cost involved? And if there is any new hardware needed, is there installation that needs to be done? And you need to take into consideration your busy season and your slow season. A lot of people are going to be in their busy season here until the middle of June. A lot of the charter-based companies are going to get busy again in September for college athletics and then roll into the holiday season before Christmas and then boom, there you are, the deadline. So a lot of people are looking at July 1, August 1, and September 1 transition times. You want to try and get it as close to the first of a month as possible. That way what’ll happen is if you do have a compliance review, you can say ‘On the first, we switched everything over to ELD.’ Because when you present your logs during the compliance review, they will be presented differently in an ELD format from how they are in an AOBRD format.

You’ll also need to look at driver training. Your driver training could be a simple 10-minute update if they’ve been trained in the current hardware and it’s just a software update. Or, it could be a little bit more lengthy training if you’re introducing them to a whole new screen or something like that on a hardware change.

Make sure that you give yourself enough time to do any work you need to do on the vehicles, to update any of the training that you have to do with your drivers, as well as update all of the training that you need to do with your employees that are managing your ELD system. You must know how to use the system all the way around, whether it is driver-based or whether it is administrator-based.

Within those components, you need to make sure that you have all your back-office elements together. When you start to do the file transfers in a complete ELD world, there are some parameters in those files that need to be specific. For example, if you don’t have a VIN in there for your vehicle when you go to transfer the file, the file is not going to transfer and you may be cited for missing driver logs. So you need to go to your back office and make sure that all of your vehicle information is current and correct. For each of your drivers, you need to make sure that their first name and last name match exactly how it is on their CDL license number. And there must be a minimum of three characters for each of the first name and the last name in the system. These are the little things that we’re finding ahead of time that people should be prepared for.

Also, as an AOBRD user, you can use the part of the social security number or part of the driver’s license number. When you go to ELD, it can’t be. So people will have to update those as well.

Christian Riddell: Switching technology solutions can be daunting. One of the first things that a company should do is to build a list of the things that your current solution does that make you happy then move on to what you know you want your new solution to do in addition to that. One of the biggest mistakes we see as people look to move from one AOBRD or ELD solution to another is that they focus so much on the new features they want that they forget to look at the things that their current solution does very well that are necessary for their operation.

Once you have created that list, we suggest going through and figuring out what items on the list are absolutes for your operation. Knowing these things going in to your purchase will make shopping much easier and faster.

Fred Fakkema: You should discuss the transition plan with the AOBRD vendor and establish a time plan for when that relevant software or equipment should be updated. The plan should take some hardware and equipment factors into account. Does the AOBRD need to be upgraded, just with the software update via over-the-air? Or do you have to install new equipment? If you have to install new equipment, obviously that’s going to take more time than just an over-the-air update. Is the AOBRD software support going to be different than the ELD? My guess would be yes because ELD software and the data that’s collected is a lot different. Once the transition plan is established, you have to have a go-to-live date. Set that date with the vendor and with your drivers. Probably the most important aspect of this is the training of the drivers, because AOBRD is completely different from ELD as far as what data is collected, so it’s going to be a new experience for those drivers. They need to know how to manage and actually utilize ELD; they need to know how to interact with the device and how to transfer data. And they need to understand what a malfunction is and what an Unknown Driving Event is. While we offer a number of resources and available expertise for fleets transitioning from AOBRD to ELD, we recommend scheduling a training period for drivers to learn and understand the differences including a mock roadside inspection so the driver can understand how to transfer that data.  We have some special driving categories in the ELD that involve yard moves and also personal conveyance, and so how you utilize those and how those are set up in their count are very important as well during the transition plan.

How does this transition affect staff beyond drivers?

Fakkema: Administrative staff or management would need to know how to properly manage ELD records from the back-office software program. Things like how to actually get into it, review what drivers have time left, whose been doing hours-of-service violations and what those violations are about. They’ll need to understand how to take that data, print it, and actually counsel those drivers, so there’s that risk of mitigation that needs to take place as well.

For dispatch, it’s important to understand how all that’s displayed and what is truly a malfunction and what is not. Most people don’t realize there’s about six different malfunctions that can take place on the ELD. Some of which correct themselves; like, if you’re not getting the appropriate GPS data, it can indicate a malfunction, but then it may reset a few minutes later. But on the list view it’ll show a malfunction, so drivers and dispatchers need to understand that even though there’s a malfunction taking place, if it resets itself, you’re fine.

If a malfunction occurs for over 30 minutes in a 24-hour period, that’s when the device isn’t operating properly. Then you have to utilize paper and then reset the device or get a new device. We highly recommend setting policies in place. Policies should be set in place for Unknown Driving Events – who assigns them, where are they assigned, and what transpires thereafter.

For the fleet manager and maintenance, make sure that the devices are actually connected and that everything’s working properly before you do the over-the-air updates. If you have to replace devices, know what vehicles those have to be in. All those different things tie into to the overall transition from AOBRD to ELD.

Riddell: Because we are talking about compliance here, management and administration need to be able to know that not only is the system compliant but that the operation continues to be compliant, day-in and day-out. You don’t want to find out that you are out of compliance during a DOT inspection. This means that there needs to be top-level visibility of not only where you stand, but what items are outstanding, where violations have occurred and what is being done to fix it. Keeping this in mind as you look to make a transition is important. Don’t feel that just because you saw the ELD provider on the compliant list that you are done and ready to toss it on to operations. Make sure that you have ways of keeping in the loop and staying ahead of any compliance issues.

It is also important that the top-level managers and owners are giving careful consideration to what company they are choosing. Not all ELD providers are created equal, and beyond initial costs and ongoing expense, it is important to choose a company who will be there to help along the way. From roadside inspections to DOT enforcement actions, it is important to make sure that you are choosing a partner that is going to keep you compliant. That is a decision that should not be taken lightly or made based on the lowest-cost provider.

We also see that dispatch is one place that often suffers at the hands of change during this transition because they lose what they are used to seeing in the way they are used to seeing it. Managers and administration need to be aware that the risk of violations goes up dramatically during transition periods because all the “normal” practices that you are used to will be up in the air a bit. HOS violations often stem from dispatch, so checking in regularly during the process of transition and making sure that the dispatch team is comfortable and can see driver availability and hours left in a week is critically important.

Companies who have been on ELD for some time find that Safety & Risk spends a lot of time in the ELD program. From HOS issues to unassigned movements, there is a lot of information that these folks need to be aware of. Our suggestion is that you look at your current AOBRD system and determine where you have spent the most time dealing with issues. This will help you look at how your new ELD provider will help limit that exposure. One of the big things the Safety/Risk teams need to understand is specifically how to fix issues as they come up. We see with new systems that there is always an uptick in driver-related issues during a transition. These can include HOS violations that are tied to drivers not logging out properly or unassigned movements when they forget to log in. Training your team to be comfortable with the appropriate amendments in these cases will help smooth the transition. Further, we see that in most transitions, it can be helpful to let the Safety/Risk teams help build the driver training component of the transition plan. This puts them in the middle of the process instead of being on the outside and subject to whatever happens.

Many ELD solutions also offer EDVIR solutions as part of their package. If you are using paper currently with the AOBRD and plan on making the transition to using the EDVIR component of the ELD, you will be throwing maintenance and the associated safety and compliance tasks into the mix of your transition. This may mean that some companies choose to pick an ELD provider that offers EDVIR but not implement it until the main transition is completed.

McDonal:  I touched on that a bit before with the back-office stuff. Your data is going to need to be reviewed every day. When I say that, I don’t mean all of your data needs to be reviewed every day, but you should be looking at your drivers’ logs every day, checking for any violations. Your unassigned movement is the key indicator that FMCSA is going to ask you for as soon as they arrive and start their hours of service investigation. That needs to be monitored every day and it needs to be assigned appropriately within your system so that you don’t have any unassigned movement hanging out there. Unassigned movement is time and distance that the bus traveled that was not assigned to any driver or any employee, essentially. If it was a cleaner or a mechanic, you can close it out as a yard move. But if you have a driver that forgot to login and traveled 10 miles, that’s going to show up as unassigned. All the vehicle’s time and distance moving should be attributed to someone. They’re going to be looking closely at that, so that’s something you need to look at every day.

As far as the maintenance side, the maintenance people need to make sure that the ELDs are recording all the data they need to every day: engine miles, engine speed and engine hours. The other thing too is when the shop is notified in writing, and I’ll get to another part of that later, they have eight days to repair or replace that ELD or that vehicle is out of service.

Dispatchers need to watch the drivers’ time because there are two pieces of the regulation that not many people speak about, which are harassment and coercion. That means if a driver is running out of hours and calls the dispatcher to ask for a relief, and the dispatcher says “I don’t have a relief driver, bring it home,” and they know that the driver is going to be breaking the hours of service regulation, that can be considered harassment.

Coercion is when a dispatcher is asking a driver to perform a duty or task knowing that it would put them past the hours of service regulations. So those are the two pieces there as well.

What steps do operators have to take when transferring record data from their AOBRDs to ELDs? What risks and pitfalls do they need to watch out for?

Fakkema: I think the biggest error that has taken place at the roadside is the driver or operator just not knowing how to utilize the device, which is something that can be easily corrected with training. The way that the ELD mandate is written is the driver owns the logs, so they’re the ones that are making the edits, and they can accept or decline and edit from the back office. Drivers are the ones that are actually maintaining their logs, so they have to know how to utilize their devices.

If they don’t know, then they’re going to have problems at roadside. The other piece of that is drivers are required to have an instruction sheet and operating manual for their ELD. If they don’t have it, they’ll get cited or be written up on an inspection for not having that information. This information can be stored electronically on the ELD, but the driver needs to know how to get to that. That’s probably the biggest thing that we see at roadside right now, drivers who don’t know how to access the instruction sheet and aren’t showing it to enforcement.

Finally, once you make that transition, you’re still required to have your previous seven days of records. So you have to either have your printed seven days from your AOBRD or have it stored on your ELD to display to law enforcement. But if you don’t have those seven days, then you’re going to be cited for that. Also at roadside, you have to have the blank paper logs as well. That’s in case of a malfunction, so if you don’t have those with you in the vehicle, you’re going to be cited for that too.

McDonal: If you’re staying with the same provider, you should never know the difference between the day that you ended one program and started the other program. The only thing that will be different will be with ELD is there’ll be some more data segments in there that were not in there under AOBRD. They should all look alike. It’s just a matter of recording that data. Again, checking your information daily is going to be critical because your data may have to speak for itself. You may not be across the desk from the investigator to be able to answer questions or explain what that log is trying to say.

FMCSA is changing its compliance review methodology again, and a lot of it is becoming technology-based. It’s asking for much more information to be sent to them ahead of time before they even arrive, and the intent is to spend less time at your operation taking you away from your regular course of business. But in doing that, they’re going to be reviewing it remotely. They’re not looking at anything less, they’re just looking at it not in front of you. So your data really has to stand on its own two feet and be able to speak for itself.

Riddell: There is a list that your ELD provider should be able to provide you that will help with the technical and regulatory requirements when making a transition. This list will include things such as printing out the drivers’ previous 7 days of driver logs for all active drivers, downloading the previous 6 months of activity from the AOBRD, teaching staff how to manually input data into the system, and the creation of a formal letter stating the transition plan, date, time and methods that will be employed during that period.

Having a solid transition plan is important. You need to understand when you are planning on making the regulatory switch and what that means for compliance during a period where your new ELD may not have all the required data in the case of a roadside or on-site DOT inspection. This means that during that time, there is going to be extra work for compliance officers and drivers to make sure that they are indeed compliant. It is also important to understand how long you will have access to the system you are transferring from. You will want to understand that it may not be possible to go back and pull old data in some cases, which will then require more work on the front end to ensure you have the data you need. One of the biggest pitfalls in this early transition will be on-the-road driver compliance with the HOS regulations. In a company who is accustomed to using AOBRDs, drivers are not used to needing additional paperwork with them, assuming that their HOS compliance is being managed in their devices.

Making sure that all of your CDL drivers understand what they need to have with them during the transition period will be important. While this period will only last a few weeks, it is a time when you can find yourself in some very serious and inconvenient situations if it is not managed properly. Imagine a roadside inspection three states away where your driver is unable to continue to drive because of a paperwork oversight! This is a reality operators need to understand and work to avoid.

What should an operator do if their ELD malfunctions?

Riddell: There are a number of answers to this question. The first is obviously to be familiar with the ELD malfunction and data diagnostics events. Part 395.34 is the regulatory “get out of jail free card.” As long as you and your drivers understand this, you will be fine.

The second and more important answer is this: We have seen that “malfunctions” increase significantly during any transition and can often be traced back to user error and a lack of training. While there may indeed be issues that do technically qualify as a malfunction, more often than not, there are functions that the user (usually the driver) doesn’t know how to use and they immediately revert to the “it’s broken” mentality. We see that these almost-inevitable transition issues can be mitigated with a good driver-training program but will probably never be eliminated completely. We also see reports from operators who have a difficult time getting the level of support they expect from their ELD provider. What should be a simple issue of understanding the issue, providing additional training, and moving on, turns into a longer-term worry of ongoing compliance while the issue gets resolved.

Once again, this comes down to making sure you choose a provider that you have a relationship with that you can trust. A company who fancies themselves a software and/or a hardware provider may not fathom the impact that a few days or weeks of dealing with an issue can have on the operational and compliance realities of a motorcoach company.

Fakkema: As I mentioned, there are different malfunctions. One occurs when drivers don’t realize that when they first start up the ELD, it’s supposed to start up within a minute and then get the data from the ECM within the first five seconds.

For that five-second window, we’re finding a lot of times we don’t get the data right away. Typically it takes anywhere from 15 to 30 seconds to get that data, so you may have a couple malfunctions until it resets itself. Like I said previously, if the device totally malfunctions then you have to have policies in place, so your drivers understand what to do when and why. The requirement is that they have to notify dispatch or the carrier, and then within 8 days the carrier needs to notify FMCSA that they have a malfunction. However, they can ask for an extension so that device can to be replaced within eight days.

McDonal: Part of the ELD transition means you’re going to have to change out the documentation that you have in your vehicles. Right now under AOBRD, you’re only required to have a driver instruction sheet and a DOT instruction sheet. Once you switch over to ELD, you have to replace those documents with three new documents. The first one is a driver instruction sheet that basically tells the driver how to operate the system.

The second one is going to be a diagnostic and malfunction sheet. That’s going to do a handful of things. It’s going to tell you what the screen is going to look like should there be a malfunction in the data collection. What’ll happen is you’ll get a red light — or an exclamation point, or however your provider defines it on your screen — that will tell you what the malfunction is and whether you should go to paper logs at that point or not.

If the malfunction doesn’t correct itself, then it’s up to the driver to notify the company, in writing, within 24 hours of the time that notification of the malfunction appeared. One thing I want to say is that you should consider putting company policies in place for how you want your driver to communicate ELD malfunctions to you. Because it says in writing, but in today’s world, writing can be an email, a text message or on the daily vehicle inspection report. How do you want that done? Who does it go to? That diagnostic sheet will only say ‘This is what’s malfunctioning. This is what you need to do. You need to report it to your company.’ So that’s how it should be working.

For safety managers, and other managers who deal with regulatory oversight, what is changing in terms of reporting and record-keeping?

McDonal: Part of the new compliance review is they’re going to ask for all of your driver information, all of your vehicle information and your accident register to be uploaded into the FMCSA portal prior to them arriving to your location to conduct the compliance review. So basically what they’re going to do is they’re going to look at the vehicles, the drivers, and any accidents and that’s how they’re going to come up with their sampling of which vehicles they want to investigate and which logs they want to see. And again, if you haven’t reviewed the logs, what you see is what you get.

Riddell: At UBT, we believe that what is changing the most in the industry right now is that those companies who got in the ELD market to try to capitalize on a compliance mandate are starting to slow their continued development and support. Those companies who added ELD to their offerings who are, and who have been, committed to the motorcoach industry are really starting to separate themselves from the rest. We are excited to be pushing ahead, with a few other providers, to make data more actionable. ELDs are, at their core level, just recording devices. While raw data may be helpful to the FMCSA and DOT in an effort to “regulate,” motorcoach operators need a much more actionable set of data. We are seeing this become more and more a part of this better group of solutions. From dashboards to reports, we are making data much more useful to the operators in an effort to make regulatory compliance less painful.

Fakkema: Probably the biggest thing will be the Unknown Driving Event (UDL). The way that an ELD is set up is once you have movement, you’re going to have a driving event. So it’s important to understand that those can take place almost anywhere, from a yard to mechanic to whoever. Your account should be set up so that those washpersons or those mechanics that may make a yard move do it in the “yard move mode” so you don’t have all those UDLs on the record. It’s really important for that person to understand what an Unknown Driving Event is and why. Make sure that it’s assigned to the right person. Make sure that the account is set up with yard moves so when you move those vehicles within the yard, those don’t get pushed against the drive time of the driver.

Also, if fleet managers are going to let the drivers utilize personal conveyance in the yard, they need to set up the appropriate policy for that. Going back to yard moves, fleet managers can geofence the yard and have it set up so that when the driver leaves the yard or breaks 20 miles per hour, he/she can do an auto-change into the drive status, which makes it easier for the driver to avoid UDLs as well.

Then there’s that roadside transfer I mentioned as well. For those who deal with safety oversight, make sure that you’re in support of the driver so if they have questions, they can call you. Make sure you know what they should do so you can kind of direct them, like to find that instruction sheet or whatever it is they need so everybody is kind of in the know, especially in the beginning.

What considerations do maintenance technicians, previously skilled with AOBRDs, have to make when dealing with their new ELDs?

Fakkema: Since it is new hardware and software that captures a lot more data, there’s a lot of information there, so I think the learning curve is going to be higher, especially when you’re maintaining those devices. Partnering with the vendor that has the technology skills and experts on hand will help with that, to navigate through all those difficult changes throughout the year.

McDonal: There are three main things. Number one, make sure all the vehicle data is correct in the system. Number two, if the company needs to do a hardware update, the shop is typically going to be responsible for switching that equipment out. Number three is making sure that the shop completely understands when they do get a notification from a driver that a system is down and knows where to go from there. They need to know what their responsibilities are, the timeframe that they’re under and when they should be ordering an ELD for the inventory. An ELD is an out-of-service criteria now. We have tires in our inventory because if we have a bald tire, that vehicle is out of service. We have brakes on the shelf because if the brakes are bad, the vehicle’s out of service. But not many people have extra ELD components on their shelf to be able to switch them out. So the shop needs to check with their provider and ask ‘Hey, if I call you on Friday at 5 p.m., how quickly can you get me components that I need?’ It might be Monday or Tuesday. Now you’re in day three or day four of your situation, out of the eight-day window you have to replace the component. From a maintenance standpoint, those are the things that I would be looking at. Also, make sure someone in your shop knows how to troubleshoot these things, or knows who to contact with their provider and speak the same language.

Riddell: This is a two-part answer. One thing that operations need to understand is how their current solution deals with “yard moves” and how they address the need for maintenance technicians to move and test buses. They then need to understand how the ELDs they are shopping will address these issues. This seemingly small change can result in major training and compliance hurdles. Understanding what these limitations will be and building a “new normal” will be important before you roll out the solution as it can result in huge work for safety/compliance dealing with unassigned movements.

The second part of this answer is tied to the EDVIR function of the solutions you use now versus what you want to purchase. Many companies’ maintenance departments that have AOBRD solutions with EDVIR functionality have come to rely on the systems heavily, even using it exclusively as their method of handling driver deficiency reporting. In these cases, an even more robust solution will be a change that will require operational changes to support it. Again, in this case, there is definitely room for an increase in safety and compliance violations if this transition isn’t managed well. The team needs to understand what the new normal will look like and how they will be able to accomplish what they need to manage the fleet. For companies who are using paper DVIR workflows, moving to EDVIR can bring a whole new set of questions and requirements that a shop needs to be prepared to address. Questions like, “How will we report non-mandatory safety issues and how will we show the difference in attention versus how will we address safety-related issues?”, “How will our provider give us reports when we are audited?”, “How will data be managed?”, or “How and when will it be deleted?” All this information becomes incredibly important when choosing a technology partner in the EDVIR side of this equation.