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How Can You Develop an HOS Electronic Logbook App for Your Long-Haul Drivers?

According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), anyone operating a commercial motor vehicle in the US must comply with the Hours of Service (HOS) regulations. The purpose of HOS is to reduce the number of accidents that are related to fatigued truck drivers.

Under these regulations, drivers of commercial motor vehicles (there are about four million commercial drivers in the US) must keep a record of working hours using a logbook that outlines the total number of hours spent on-duty, off-duty, driving, and sleeping.  

We have looked at how mobile technology can simplify the process of logging for drivers and help a carrier company build a more efficient and safer fleet. As it turns out, no app can independently provide an e-logging solution that meets HOS requirements. This is because an electronic logbook requires a hardware component to pair with the app’s software solution.  

We’ll approach the topic of e-logging app development by first describing hardware requirements. This way you can understand the underlying technological requirements before making the decision to develop a trucker logbook app.

Logbooks and HOS Logging Devices

A logbook in its simplest form represents a notebook, with a time grid on every page dividing the 24-hour day into 15-minute segments.

logbook for long-haul drivers

Instead of a paper logbook, some drivers use e-logging software that allows them to generate a Record of Duty Status and submit the record with an electronic signature. This type of e-logging software doesn’t provide a connection to a truck’s engine, but rather relies on a driver’s manual input of HOS information.

Electronic Logging Devices (ELD), on the other hand (as opposed to “e-logging” software), can record a driver’s compliance with HOS requirements more effectively than paper logbooks because they are linked by hardware. ELD devices also provide drivers and dispatchers with other benefits, reducing paperwork, helping drivers avoid financial penalties under the CSA program (Compliance, Safety, Accountability), and keeping a dispatchers up-to-date on a driver’s status. Here is a list of types of ELD hardware devices that are currently available on the market:

  • Automatic On-board Recording Devices (AOBRD) connect to the engine and record driver HOS information that can be shared with dispatchers. AOBRD devices can also produce a driver’s HOS chart upon demand.

  • Fleet management systems provide a robust suite of different applications from GPS fleet tracking to messaging and fuel monitoring. Fleet management systems also includes an AOBRD component.

  • Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) are the future for long-haul truck drivers. They synchronize with a truck’s engine to capture power status, motion status, miles driven, and engine hours. The ELD dataset includes date, time, location, engine hours, vehicle miles, as well as identification data on driver, vehicle, and motor carrier. ELD is very similar to AOBRD, only it doesn’t officially exist yet.

Read also: Using mobile technologies in the motor carrier LTL operations

The FMCSA’s Mandate for ELD

The FMCSA has been working on a mandate for electronic logging devices that will apply to all commercial motor carriers and truck drivers in the US who are currently required to keep Records of Duty Status. The rule consists of four parts:

  1. The requirement to use ELDs.
  2. Protections against driver harassment.
  3. Device hardware specifications.
  4. The hours-of-service related supporting documents drivers must continue to carry after the mandate goes into effect (10 supporting documents).

ELD standards might not align with those of AOBRD. To transition to a new standard, hardware producers will have to independently certify compliance of their devices with the new rules.

Adopting new electronic logging technology may be costly for truck drivers, so the FMCSA allows for the use of smartphones and tablets running electronic logbook solutions that meets the following ELD requirements:

  • A hard-wired connection to the truck’s engine, interfacing with the Engine Control Unit.
  • Resistance to tempering and support for data integrity check functions.
  • Vehicle location tracking and automated entry at each change of duty status.
  • Graph grid for presenting a driver’s daily status changes either on a display unit or on a printout.
  • A driver should be allowed to log in and select “on-duty,” “off-duty,” or “on-duty not driving” status (“driving” status must be automatically activated by vehicle movement).
  • HOS data should be standardized for transmission to law enforcement officers on a real-time basis using wireless connections such as Bluetooth.

The new ELD rules will reportedly be published on September 30, 2015 [UPDATE: As of November 19 the ruling still hasn’t been published]. Once enacted, fleets will have two years to implement certified electronic logging technology to record HOS, though fleets that have already invested in e-logs may continue using them until 2019.

The ELD App Development

According to the ELD mandate, an HOS electronic logbook solution for smartphones or tablets consists of three parts: 1) a mobile app for a driver, 2) a mobile app for a dispatcher, and 3) a hardware device that connects to the truck’s engine.

AOBRDs that are already in use by some US drivers can potentially be turned into ELDs if their providers manage to get them certified. No existing solutions are ELD-certified, but there are devices that claim to be ELD mandate-ready (e.g. the KeepTruckin Electronic Logging Device and BigRoad’s DashLink).

BigRoad DashLink ELD

[BigRoad's electronic logging solutions]

How does an ELD connect to the truck’s engine?

Under the hood of modern vehicles there is a fully-fledged electronic system that communicates with various sensors, constantly measuring speed, acceleration, braking, orientation, steering angle, wheel rotation, and more. The core of this system is formed by microprocessing modules known as Electronic Control Units (ECU), each of which controls a specific set of functions – engine, transmission, automatic braking, airbags, power windows, air conditioning, and so on. There are about 70 ECUs in a modern vehicle.

ECUs communicate with each other using standardized protocols, of which there are several.  The most common standard is called Controller Area Network (CAN). CAN enables a constant flow of data signals among sensors, actuators and ECUs within the vehicle, but doesn’t have a central hub.

The system of electronic communications within each vehicle varies by manufacturer, and automakers apply strong technical security measures to prevent unauthorized access to their vehicle networks. There is, however, one exception to this rule: vehicle data controlled by the Engine Control Unit can be made available via the On-Board Diagnostic (OBD) port, a standardized hardware interface located within two feet of the steering wheel, typically under the dashboard.

All vehicles manufactured after 1996 must conform to the OBD-II standard which allows physical scan devices (for example, ELDs) to access certain emissions-related data points via the OBD-II port to gather and monitor data about vehicle operations.

The only thing that a driver needs to do to enable engine-connected logging is plug an ELD into a vehicle diagnostic port and then wirelessly connect an e-logging app to the ELD..

Diagnostic reader connected through OBD-II port

Read also: How can you develop an Uber for trucking?

What does an e-logging mobile app do?

The minimum data that an ELD must gather includes engine hours, road speed, miles driven, date and time of day. Certain ELDs may include a GPS unit for location information. Otherwise, fleets may rely on a driver’s mobile device to capture the truck’s location when a duty status changes. An electronic truck logbook must also include truck and trailer number, name and address of the carrier, shipping documents numbers, and other details.

The app on a driver’s mobile device processes the data received from the engine (through a wireless connection) and creates logs that can be edited by a driver. A dispatcher also gets access to driver logs for auditing using a separate fleet app that offers additional functionality.

Keep Truckin logging app

[KeepTruckin's logbook app]

While electronic logs are at the core of both driver-focused and fleet-focused apps, other useful features may also be implemented in e-logging apps. Here are some other common features of electronic logging apps:

  • Form & Manner alerts

A dispatcher and a driver receive push notifications if there are violations or errors in the logbook.

  • HOS Alerts

If a truck has been in continuous movement for a period of time that exceeds the HOS requirements, a mobile app sends a push notification to a driver’s phone suggesting that they take a rest. The app should send a notification at least 30 minutes before an HOS violation occurs. In case a driver hasn’t reacted to the alert, the push notification on the HOS violation is sent to the dispatcher who can settle the matter by alerting the driver in some other manner.

  • Electronic DVIR

An app can create Driver Vehicle Inspection Reports (DVIR); special forms needed for compliance inspection if a vehicle has been damaged during a trip. According to a new No-Defect DVIR Rule issued by the FMCSA, truck drivers whose pre-trip and post-trip inspections turn up no equipment issues or safety concerns no longer need to file a report.  

In the event that damage to a vehicle has occurred, an app can help drivers complete the DVIR, add photos of the damage, and sign the report electronically.

  • Messaging

Real-time communication features with individual and group chats can enable direct connections between a fleet’s headquarters and its drivers, helping companies improve their fleet management operations..

  • Map

For a driver a map attached to the app’s interface can include live traffic information, routing, and other important road-related details such as the location of truck stops, truck washes, service and maintenance stations, fuel, and Wi-Fi zones.

For a dispatcher, a map can show the current locations of all the operating drivers.

Additionally, an app for fleets may include features for monitoring driver behavior and statistics. Incidents of unsafe and wasteful driving, such as speeding, hard braking, and idle time, captured by an ELD, can trigger near-real-time alerts to be sent to a fleet manager’s app or to their email.

An e-logging app’s interface is likely to be different for a driver than for a fleet manager. After all, fleet managers need access to broader functionality and data-storage capabilities that are implemented through backend solutions.

Even though the new ELD mandate hasn't been enacted yet, it makes a lot of sense to already start investing in e-logbook app development. We hope our article gave you some ideas of the technology and functionality behind HOS electronic logging solutions.

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