Behind drilling, driving probably occupies the most at-work time for drill crews and contractors. New rules for electronic logging for vehicles will have an impact on how all that time behind the wheel gets tracked.
At the recent National Drilling Association (NDA) event in Marlborough, Mass., I attended a presentation on electronic logging devices, or ELDs. Jim Howe, vice president of operations for Geotechnology Inc., and Scott Sutarik, associate vice president of commercial vehicle solutions for Geotab, gave the presentation. For a lot of drilling trucks and other vehicles, ELDs will be required starting Dec. 16 of this year. Any new legal requirement on a small business can further complicate day-to-day operations. But Howe and Sutarik made a positive business case for why an ELD requirement isn’t as burdensome as it might look at first glance.
“It’s a different regulatory environment now,” Howe told the attendees. Geotechnology, which has about 300 employees, could at any given time have dozens of employees working across a half dozen states. It went to an ELD system in 2013.
“Doing it right, doing it safely, being accountable to each other and understanding what’s going on in the field were critical for us. When you’re doing it all on paper, you can’t monitor it.”
ELDs replace paper logbooks for drivers required to maintain Record of Duty Status (RODS) to comply with Hours of Service (HOS) requirements. This means that operators of commercial motor vehicles most likely need to move from paper logs to electronic ones. There are exceptions:
- Vehicles with engines older than the year 2000 are exempt. Note that this exception applies to the model year of the engine, not the vehicle. ELDs are hard-wired to a vehicle’s engine.
- Drivers who stay close to home base are exempt. The rule is 100 miles as the crow flies, or 150 miles in some cases. Such drivers are exempt from maintaining an RODS, anyway.
- Drivers who maintain a RODS for less than eight days in any given 30-day period.
Let’s consider a typical drilling contractor with a fleet of two or three newer truck-mounted rigs and a water truck who works jobs in a few states. He must make sure his fleet complies with the new rules. In fact, I’d guess most National Driller readers probably have to think about moving to ELDs in the near future.
Great, you’re thinking. Another cost of doing business to add to the pile. Yes, it will cost money to comply. But there are advantages to electronic records over paper ones.
- Reduced time of compliance: Drivers can record Hours of Service with a couple of taps on an in-cab electronic device. That beats scribbling on a beat-up paper logbook in the glovebox, then having someone in the office have to clarify with the driver because of sloppy handwriting or an incomplete form.
- Increased tracking and communication: Good ELD systems are GPS-enabled telematics solutions. A good ELD system shows contractors their fleet’s big picture. This can include everything from driver ETAs to the jobsite to behind-the-wheel safety records.
- Increased efficiencies: One contractor at the NDA session talked about ELDs helping him identify drivers that unnecessarily left engines idling all day. That alone saved his business thousands of dollars each year in fuel costs. A GPS-enabled ELD system can also route drivers around traffic backups, so they spend more time drilling and less time driving.
Of course, the disadvantage is cost. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates the annual cost per vehicle at between $165 and $832, with an average of about $500 for the device and service plan. That’s not a ton of money when compared to, for instance, fuel costs. A company with, for example, four vehicles could now be on the hook for about $2,000 or $3,000 a year in new expenses. That’s not insignificant. But drivers can start getting non-compliance tickets in December and those aren’t cheap, either.
Speaking to the tracking aspects of ELDs, Howes says knowing the driving habits of crews behind the wheels of commercial vehicles, and curbing risky behavior like speeding and tailgating, is also a huge potential benefit.
“Our drillers generally, historically, have been very safe drivers,” he emphasizes. But, “our drill rigs are targets. If a vehicle like that is involved in an accident, if there’s any serious damage or injury, you know what’s coming. We’ve been fortunate that we’ve avoided that. I know that there are firms that have been embroiled in some of those types of lawsuits over the years. They’re not any fun. If you can do everything you can to avoid that happening, you’re a much better company.”
Records for a good ELD system with telematics can also offer compelling evidence that your driver followed posted speed limits and other traffic laws if an accident happens.
Industry groups like the National Ground Water Association (NGWA) have launched last-ditch efforts to delay the ELD mandate. National Driller applauds those efforts. At the same time, we urge contractors to prepare themselves. We think the advantages of electronic logging, over time, probably outweigh the costs.
Start the compliance process by reaching out to an ELD provider. FMCSA has a list: https://csa.fmcsa.dot.gov/ELD/List. But don’t stop there. Some providers, like Geotab, aren’t on the list yet. Do your homework. Find several companies who specialize in ELDs and get bids that clearly spell out annual costs (and features offered) to do accurate comparisons. Ask around. Get recommendations from other contractors you trust, or from statewide or regional groups like NDA. Most importantly, get started. Sutarik estimates about 1 million commercial vehicles on U.S. roads will need ELDs by the deadline and warns that kind of demand can mean delays for companies who wait. December is right around the corner.