What is an ELD? And Who is FMSCA?

Flint Holbrook profile image
Flint Holbrook
6 min read
July 5, 2022

You've probably landed here because your swimming in acronyms. Let's break it all down. 

First, Who is the FMSCA?

FMCSA is an agency in the US Department of Transportation that regulates the trucking industry in the US. The primary mission of the FMCSA is to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses on US highways by improving safety through regulation, education, enforcement, research, and technology.

FMSCA is responsible for:

  • Enforcing safety-related regulations for trucking
  • Identifying high-risk carriers and drivers
  • Making safety information systems better
  • Keeping standards for commercial motor vehicles’ equipment
  • Raising awareness of safety and regulations.

As a part of the Department of Transportation, the FMCSA works with federal, state, local law enforcement, the trucking industry and labor groups involved in trucking.

In 2015, the FMSCA published a mandate on ELDs requiring motor carriers and drivers who keep records of duty status (RODS) to switch to electronic logging. The ELD regulations' main goals are to improve road safety and simplify Hours of Service tracking and records of duty status (RODS) for truck and bus drivers.

So basically, the FMSCA is the primary government agency that regulates trucking and transportation.

Now, what is an ELD?

Electronic Logging Devices (ELD) is intended by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to make the roadways safer for commercial motor vehicle drivers and the general public.

An ELD is an electronic logging device used by drivers of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) to record driving time automatically. It collects data on the vehicle's engine, movement, and miles driven and records this data as Hours-Of-Service logs (HOS). The ELD ensures that drivers adhere to the maximum duty cycles set by the FMSCA.

The ELD mandate requires replacing paper logs, and an earlier type of recorder called an Automatic On-Board Recording Device (AOBRD) with automated ELD technology. ELD is designed to record data related to the operation of the vehicle and driver activity. Paper logbooks are not always accurate because there is the possibility of error or miscalculation by drivers and coercion pressures from employers to manipulate hours. The ELD mandate requires the replacement of paper logs with electronic recording, performed automatically to ensure accuracy.

ELDs are designed to record data related to the operation of the vehicle and driver activity. Commercial truckers are restricted to a maximum number driving and on-duty hours per day and per week with mandatory rest breaks. The ELD ensures drivers do not work or drive more than the regulated time. The Hours of Service records created by an ELD is a permanent record of operating hours, on-duty hours (when drivers are working but not going for driving), and rest time.

The ELD automatically records the following information to keep records of duty status and help drivers track their driving limits, and prevent fatigue-related issues:

  • Date
  • Time
  • Location
  • Engine hours
  • Vehicle miles
  • Driver identification
  • User authentication
  • Vehicle
  • Motor carrier

The ELD uses this information to record the number of hours a driver has been driving. Moreover, The ELD transmits hours of service (HOS) data in or near real-time to a cloud-based back-office system for accessibility by dispatchers and fleet managers. Thus, an ELD system eliminates drivers and carriers' need to use paper logs for their HOS needs.

When a commercial vehicle with a tired or sleepy driver is the cause of a major accident, this issue comes to the attention of officials and the public. Awareness of the problem led to the restriction on driver hours of service and the requirement to keep a log documenting that the prescribed driving hours are not exceeded. 

It is known that long-distance or cross-country driving, sitting behind the wheel for several hours at a time, can be physically tiring. Some studies have established that fatigue is a significant factor in increased street and highway accident rates. 

Therefore, to reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving large trucks and buses; The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) developed and implemented ELD to regulate and provide safety oversight of commercial motor vehicles (CMVs).


What are the advantages and disadvantages of ELDs?

Well, this is a complicated question and depends on who you ask. Most truck drivers hate them and most FMSCA officials love them. There are, however, some advantages to fleets. Since most ELDs come with some features that are useful outside of complying with the regulations, such as:

  1. Driver Safety: An ELD that can report on driver behavior such as speeding, harsh maneuvers, idling, and utilization of the vehicle will monitor driving trends, which can encourage good driving habits - increasing the safety of your drivers
  2. State Mileage: Motor carriers that operate in multiple jurisdictions need to file a quarterly fuel tax, according to the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA). The ELD system incorporates broader fleet management capabilities. The ELD will capture the ITFA data and automatically create the reports, saving your drivers and back office plenty of time.
  3. CMVs Diagnostics: An ELD solution can offer real-time and retrospective reporting on fuel, carbon, odometer, and fault codes. This allows organizations to be proactive in setting up maintenance plans and avoiding costly downtimes due to unforeseen vehicle problems.
  4. Fuel Performances: Fuel is habitually the most significant cost that a fleet experience. By monitoring driver behavior and idle time, an ELD solution can identify trends that help organizations encourage good driving habits, leading to better fuel efficiency in their fleets. In short, a safe driver is a fuel-efficient driver.
  5. Driver-Vehicle Inspection Reports (DVIR): The FMCSA mandates drivers record their vehicles' roadworthiness before each trip. This requires drivers to go through a checklist of inspection points, such as tires, windscreen.  An ELD allows drivers to perform this inspection checklist through the in-cab tablet, ensuring nothing gets missed and uploaded to the cloud.

In brief, ELDs offer trucking companies these benefits:

  • Increase driver safety and save lives
  • Shorten the process of keeping Records of Duty Status (RODS)
  • Reduce paperwork for drivers and office staff
  • Save time and money spent on office administration.
  • Minimize the risk of errors with automated tracking

The disadvantages are pretty obvious. Its something you have to pay for that doesn't necessarily generate revenue AND it gives the FMSCA an easy way to audit your records and find you at fault for something. Ultimately, its required by law (except for a few circumstances discussed later) so you might as well buckle in and commit to having one.

Who is required to have an ELD?

The ELD applies to most motor carriers and drivers required to maintain records of duty status (RODS). The rule applies to commercial buses and trucks and Canada and Mexico-domiciled drivers when driving in the USA.

Canadian and Mexican resided drivers must comply with the Federal hours of service rules while operating in the United States. This includes using ELDs unless they qualify for one of the exceptions.

Mostly, the ELD rules cover commercial driving operations that are required to keep hours of service. Specifically, this includes:

  • Interstate commercial motor vehicle drivers currently required to keep Record of Duty Status (RODS)
  • Vehicles that weigh more than 10,001 pounds
  • Vehicles with placarded hazmat loads
  • Vehicles are carrying more than 8 or 15 passengers (depending on vehicle class).

The ELD rule allows limited exceptions to the ELD mandate. Let’s dive into the exceptions: 

  • Vehicles that manufactured before 2000

An ELD unit needs an engine control module (ECM). However, most engines manufactured before 2000 lack an ECM. Therefore, if a commercial motor vehicle’s engine was manufactured in 2000 or earlier, that vehicle is exempt from being required to use an ELD.

However, it’s the engine that counts and engines can be swapped. This exemption now applies to the engine’s model year, regardless of the vehicle’s registration date. Vehicles with engine models in 2000 or later require ELDs, even if the vehicle itself was manufactured before 2000.

  • Driveaway-towaway Drivers  

Driveaway-towaway drivers delivering a commercial motor vehicle as part of a shipment don't own the vehicle and therefore are not required to equip it with an ELD.

  • Drivers Who Maintain RODS for 8 Days or Less

Drivers who maintain Record of Duty Status (RODS) for eight days or fewer in a 30-day rolling period do not need an ELD. They need to keep logs, but the ELD itself is not legally required.

This includes short-haul drivers who occasionally take longer trips. However, drivers who break the short-haul exception more than eight days in a 30-day period will need an ELD.

This ELD exemption means that short-haul drivers who infrequently make longer trips don't have to upgrade.

  • Short-haul Exception

Some commercial driver’s license (CDL) drivers fall under the short-haul exemption. Previously known as the 100 Air-mile Radius exception, an updated Final Rule recently published by the FMCSA extends the radius to 150 miles. According to the FMCSA, "Permitting this change increases the number of drivers able to take advantage of the exception and shifts work and drive time from long-to short-haul."

To qualify, drivers must:

  • Operate within a 150 air-mile radius of their normal work reporting location
  • Start and end the day at the same location.
  • Have at least 10 hours off duty between each 12-hour shift
  • Not drive more than 14 hours.
  • Farm Vehicles

Certain farm vehicles, and the carriers who operate them, are exempt from having an ELD. This is not a blanket exemption for all agricultural vehicles and also equipment. It applies to the transport of commodities such as livestock, machinery, or supplies.

What Does an ELD Cost?

The cost of electronic logging devices (ELDs) have decreased significantly over the years since their introduction into the transportation industry. As the technology continued to develop, ELD prices subsequently dropped, with smartphone and tablet compatibility helping reduce up-front costs. Lower hardware costs have also contributed to the decrease in ELD prices.

The cost range of ELDs can vary from hundreds of dollars to thousands per vehicle. When getting an ELD solution, some costs involve the device hardware, professional assistant for installation (if necessary), and a software fee each month. 

In broad terms, the average price of an ELD is about $495 per truck per year, according to the FMCSA, with a range of $165 to $832 per truck annually.

Remember when you're shopping for ELDs that you get what you pay for. Just like everything in life. Since this is a critical piece of compliance technology for your fleet its probably not a place to scrimp.

Final Thought

As not fun as ELDs are they are required by law. I highly recommend that you invest in a solid technology partner to provide your ELD. However, buying it is only one part of the process. You then need to manage it and that's the hard part.