To operate in the trucking business, you need to accept the cost of installing ELDs in your vehicles.
Because of that, carriers and owner-operators look into cheaper options such as mobile phone ELD apps.
They wonder if they could use cell phones as ELD in their commercial trucks.
This topic was discussed on May 9, 2017, during the FMCSA meeting about what is eld in trucking and its technical specifications.
In that meeting, they made sure that manufacturers knew how to make their ELDs compliant with the HOS rules.
They said that due to their poor reliability, the hours of service records can be inaccurate.
But what are the issues of using your smartphone or tablet as an ELD?
Let’s see below.
Can a cell phone or a tablet be used as an ELD?
In theory, cell phone apps can track driver hours of service. But, in practice, the ELD apps show vulnerabilities.
Also, consider that the same HOS rules apply to ELD dedicated devices and E-logs phone apps. That raises the question of reliability for both devices.
The FMCSA has decreed a set of requirements that qualify a device as a certified ELD. That means that installing a few apps on a smartphone doesn’t make it compliant with the ELD requirements.
Any certified ELD solution must meet these performance criteria:
- Record driving time, date, location, engine hours, and miles, and keep this data for seven consecutive days.
- GPS location accuracy to within one mile.
- Synchronize with the vehicle engine control module.
- Provide mandatory driver review of records to verify driver identity and accuracy.
- Send data using specified data protocols.
- Have a function for annotating or verifying records.
- A display that provides all data in a standardized format for safety officials to review on-demand.
- Provide a user manual with instructions for recordkeeping and transferring the data to officials.
To use a smartphone as an ELD, it has to operate as required. It should not end up being the weak link in HOS data transmission.
The difference between an ELD dedicated device and an E-log mobile phone app?
- How do ELD dedicated devices work?
ELDs are hardware units that record vehicle movement automatically.
They connect directly to the vehicle ECM (Engine Control Module).
- How do the E-log mobile phone apps work?
E-log mobile phone apps are more of a replacement for paper logs.
Without an ELD connection, smartphone ELD apps cannot record the vehicle motion activity.
When using an E-log mobile app, be aware that this doesn't make you compliant with the ELD mandate.
How does the ELD unit connect to a smartphone app?
There are two ways in which ELDs relay data to an e-log app: via cellular networks or a Bluetooth connection.
To understand how these methods of connecting ELD data with an app work, let’s define both of these methods.
What are cellular-based ELD systems?
The transmission of the data between an ELD and the driver’s smartphone relies on cellular networks or coverage.
The ELD uses that type of connection to connect to a cell tower to send the data to the driver’s smartphone or tablet.
What is a Bluetooth-based ELD system?
To send the data from the truck's engine-connected ELD to a cellphone app is through Bluetooth.
So ... What is the problem?
According to the ELD mandate, the vehicle activity must be recorded continuously. That means that any data gaps in the hours of service records are not allowed.
Here is when the E-logs mobile apps show their vulnerabilities. There are two main vulnerabilities of E-logs mobile apps.
- While using a mobile phone as an ELD, the battery power discharges very fast. That makes the driver always deal with the smartphone discharging and charging process.
- Commercial trucks often operate in remote areas with spotty or no cellular coverage. In such cases, the engine-connected ELDs can't send the data to the driver's mobile devices.
- A smartphone’s life cycle is short. The manufacturers of mobile phones often upgrade their systems. Cell phone owners change them every couple of years. The smartphone’s daily exposure to hazards and handling results in its short life expectancy.
- ELD buyers prefer to update their truck tracking systems rather than replace them with newer models.
- Very often, your phone might be dead because you forgot the charging cable, dropped it on the pavement, or left it at home. And, if your ELD lives on the phone, you must understand the consequences.
- That happens very often with apps, and you might need to contact the support team, which might not be around. With ELD dedicated devices, that rarely can happen because it is too important to fall into that category.
As a result, using smartphone ELD apps is prone to recording inaccurate HOS data.
Can a cell phone or a tablet be used as an ELD?
You can use your phone or tablet to track the hours of service, but you’ll also need an ELD physically installed in your truck.
The ELD hardware records the engine data and the driving activity, while your phone or tablet, can be used to download a compliant mobile ELD application that tracks the driving time, the duty status, the driver breaks, and other operational information.