Drivers now have ELDs, but who has their data?

Truck drivers ELD

With three years’ worth of anxiety over the deadline for installing electronic logging devices (ELDs) now having largely subsided, a new concern regarding these devices is taking hold in the carrier, driver and shipper community.

As of Dec. 17, 2019, nearly all truck drivers operating on U.S. roadways had to have ELDs installed to track drivers’ hours of service. The ELD deadline actually was not a single deadline, but rather three separate deadlines, the first occurring in December 2017 with the “soft” enforcement period and the second taking place on April 1, 2018, with the “hard” enforcement deadline. This latest deadline was for drivers who used automatic onboard recording devices (AOBRDs) and were grandfathered. Running an AOBRD is no longer allowed.

Now that most drivers and carriers are using ELDs, the next question has arisen: What happens to all this data the ELDs generate?

While ELD data has legitimate uses for carriers, brokers and shippers, just how that data is used, and who owns it, is becoming a sticking point for many. In an industry built on relationships, there remains a certain level of distrust, and data privacy is at the top of that list.

Jason Eversole, director of carrier strategy for FourKites, told FreightWaves it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, he said, FourKites has worked hard to ensure carriers and drivers maintain control of their data, even as the technology provider tries to use that data to optimize the supply chain.

“It’s their data, we’re just stewards of it,” he said. “Of course we want to provide value to our customers, which today is primarily shippers” but also includes some carriers.

That value, though, is compromised if carriers are unwilling to provide access to the data generated by the ELD. Detention is one area where ELD data can be used for a greater good.

A September 2019 report issued by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) found that 25.8% of drivers faced detention of between two and four hours, with an additional 14.4% suffering detention between four and six hours. Collectively, 73.5% of drivers faced detention of greater than one hour.

The Department of Transportation’s inspector general reported in early 2018 that 15 minutes of detention time increased crash risk by 6.2%. “In addition, we estimated that detention is associated with reductions in annual earnings of $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion for for-hire commercial motor vehicle drivers in the truckload sector. For motor carriers in that sector, we estimated that detention reduces net income by $250.6 million to $302.9 million annually,” the IG’s report said.

Using ELD data can help shippers identify problems at facilities, and it can help carriers document detention, if that data is shared.

“A shipper is not just going to take a truck driver’s word that dwell time is too long and build new dock doors,” Eversole said. “[But], if you don’t play in the ecosystem through which the information is being generated and made visible to the people who need it, it’s not going to work.”

Eversole said maintaining proper data security and levels of privacy are critical for gaining access to the data that is useful. Some companies may request access to the ELD data, but the question is, what is their motive for seeking it?

“There is a fear that once everyone is connected by ELDs, then every broker and every shipper knows where the capacity is and where there is a shortage of capacity, and it will drive down rates,” he said.

To prevent this, Eversole said it is a good idea to limit the data that is shared. “We guard that stuff like alligators to be sure it is never used in that way,” he said.

“I came out of the military, and I had secret clearances, but just because you have the clearance doesn’t mean you need to know,” Eversole added. “Share with whom you need to share with and don’t buy that everybody needs to know everything.”

To illustrate, Eversole talked about how carriers that work with FourKites maintain control of how much data is shared.

“You are going to be in control of the data,” he said. “You are going to have a mechanism to see who you’re connected with, how you’re connected, and have a mechanism to turn off that connection if you want.”

Make it clear what data is being used for, Eversole said, so that everyone understands the process, how their data is being used and what data is being used. Doing so can lead to many carriers agreeing to turn over additional data.

“[Carriers] just don’t want to give up that level of visibility,” Eversole said. “But by the end of the conversation, they all get very comfortable with what we’re doing.”

ELD data can provide a treasure trove of information that can be used to improve estimated time of arrival (ETA), engine health information and vehicle health information. In some cases, it can even identify what loads are being hauled, where they are being hauled and who for whom they are being hauled.

Eversole said FourKites tracks location data, for instance, but it does not store that information nor does it transmit it to the shipper. The information is only used by FourKites to generate the ETA.

Vehicle tracking begins four hours before a scheduled pickup, he said, but the shipper does not know where that truck actually is. Once at the facility, the truck is geofenced for entry and exit and upon leaving the facility, is pinged every 15 minutes to again estimate time of arrival. Tracking stops the moment the truck makes the delivery.

“The carrier can use that to help establish boundaries and make a case for detention time if that’s what they want to do,” Eversole said. Information on facility wait times is also made available to carriers through the FourKites app, giving them power to choose which facilities they wish to haul to.

One concern is whether the ELD, which monitors available drive time, can be used by shippers to coerce a driver to keep driving. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has specific regulations against coercion, but as most truckers know, it still happens. Since FourKites doesn’t transmit that data to shippers — in fact, it doesn’t even collect available drive time data — that can’t happen, Eversole said.

“In our calculations, we assume that drivers have a full set of hours,” he said. “What we’ve done to eliminate the need for hours of service is if the length of haul is long enough to require a break, we bake that into the calculation. We have 700,000 loads a day going through our system, and our data scientists can get very accurate [ETAs] even without hours-of-service data. We can get within a two-hour window in our initial estimate on a cross-country transit from California to North Carolina.”

Data privacy begins with provider trust.  

“There is a lack of clarity [in the marketplace],” Eversole said. “Today, most visibility companies that are requesting data sharing … hand over the keys to the car in the form of a login credential to the ELD, and they hope that whoever they hand it to is a good steward [of the data].”