Figuring hours in seconds

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Legislators, bureaucrats and trucking industry leaders in Washington D.C., have been wrangling for many years on how to enforce federal hours-of-service regulations more effectively. While the debate continues, some carriers have tackled some of the issues by using information technology tools that let them eliminate or minimize burdensome administrative costs and to ensure compliance with HOS rules.

Carriers have used two basic approaches to improve log management through technology. One approach is to use scanning software systems that can accurately “read” and analyze paper logs. The systems automatically check to see if drivers’ explanations or drawn lines are faulty, incomplete or difficult to read; display the errors and omissions by highlighting them on a PC screen; and provide details on why a particular problem is being noted. The system then sends notification letters, describing errors or omissions, to drivers. Users are also able to destroy paper logs after they are scanned, and the imaged log can be automatically purged as soon as the federal six-month retention requirement is met.

The second approach is to eliminate all paper through use of electronic onboard recorders, a technology that gives carriers the same advantages – and then some – as software scanning. Either way, capturing records of duty status electronically can save carriers time and give them much more useable information.

Major time savings
While the storage benefits are great, many users of automated log auditing systems find time savings to be the greatest benefits. Edison, N.J.-based Gemini Traffic Sales, whose 130 trucks handle temperature-sensitive LTL freight, has realized major savings since it began using a log scanning system. Gemini replaced manual auditing with J.J. Keller’s KellerScan system about six months ago. Since then, the time needed to process and analyze logs has declined 75 percent, says Steve Quidor, safety director. “It’s one of the greatest investments we ever made.”

With the KellerScan system, drivers fill out a scanable log and carrier personnel scan the log information into the software application. After logs are scanned and processed, they can be batched and stored for later auditing or pulled up to the PC screen for immediate attention. If the software can’t read certain sections, it highlights those fields so the log auditor and deal with it manually. KellerScan then files logs in a database allowing the carrier to generate reports at anytime.

J.J. Keller also offers the Log Checker software system to help small fleets comply with HOS mandates. The KellerScan and Log Checker screens and reports look the same, but Log Checker uses data that’s entered manually. Data entry takes 30 to 60 seconds per log, J.J. Keller says.

All in compliance
Reducing the time needed for auditing allows carriers to be much more comprehensive in their auditing if they so choose. Managers at Paul Arpin Van Lines of East Greenwich, R.I., only had time to manually check about 25 percent of drivers’ paper logs. But since the household goods carrier started using Scanware’s LogScan system to electronically audit all of its drivers’ logs three years ago, we started “getting the whole picture,” says Steve Sweet, safety director. The whole picture included accurate information on those drivers who had been ignoring HOS rules. As a result of its initial electronic audits, the carrier replaced some drivers.

Electronic auditing is more than a time saver for Paul Arpin’s safety department. Sweet and his personnel can thoroughly analyze compliance by comparing drivers’ electronic logs with vehicle location data in the carrier’s proprietary fuel tax program. The log information also is matched against roadside inspection reports, Sweet says. LogScan also generates a report on drivers likely to be examined in an audit, identifying drivers by analyzing not only log data but also accident records and roadside inspection results.

Scanware also offers EZLog, through which carriers can outsource log management entirely. Once carrier personnel scan drivers’ logs, they transmit the data to Scanware’s Spring City, Pa., headquarters, where the EZLog electronic auditing service is performed. The carrier receives the results the following day.

Until last May, Hamm and Phillips Service Co. of Enid, Okla., had one person in the safety department randomly check drivers’ log sheets. Then the oil field service company started using Eclipse Software’s RapidLog system, complemented by RapidScan Pro scanning software. Now the company has time to audit the logs of all 130 drivers.

“We know all the guys are in compliance now,” says Joyce Ryel, safety and training coordinator for Hamm and Phillips. “Nothing gets by any more.” Hamm and Phillips also uses RapidLog’s customization capability so that it can accommodate Oklahoma’s intrastate 12-hour rule for oil field work.

The basic RapidLog system requires keyboard or mouse entry of data, although users can speed processing by placing log sheets on an electronic graphics tablet and using a pen to identify each change in a driver’s duty status. By upgrading to RapidScan Lite or RapidScan Pro, a carrier can add scanning capability. RapidScan Pro, geared toward carriers with more than 100 drivers, reads only special scanable log sheets. But the program requires less hands-on entry than the RapidScan Lite, which calls for the user to manually to pull up the driver’s name and enter mileage data.

Systems like KellerScan can read paper logs and identify potential problems.

Driver notification
Most log auditing systems allow for automatic – or at least easier – generation of letters to drivers. The LogScan system, for example, generates detailed letters to drivers on any errors it finds. It also provides drivers with reprints of logs, along with arrows pointing to where HOS violations or errors occurred.

Celadon Trucking Services has found KellerScan helpful in notifying drivers much more quickly about problem entries, says Bill Osborn, the carrier’s vice president of safety. Celadon sends letters about minor log discrepancies to drivers every two weeks. And if there is a major problem, it can contact drivers on the road via the Qualcomm mobile communications system installed on their trucks. If a driver calls in about a reported error on a log sheet, Celadon clerks can use the KellerScan to easily access the appropriate log sheet on a PC screen and discuss the problem.

As hardware costs for quality scanning systems continue to fall and more carriers begin using imaging for other purposes, such as billing and collections, expect to see increased use of electronic log auditing systems. For carriers that continue to use paper logs, digital log management may soon be the rule not the exception – even for smaller carriers.

The onboard alternative

Converting paper to pixels certainly has advantages, but the next step in log management is eliminating paper altogether. Many carriers already do this with onboard computers. Federal motor carrier safety regulations (Part 395.15) in effect for well over a decade establish the standards such systems must meet if they are used for logs.

The value proposition isn’t limited to hours compliance. In fact, many carriers use onboard computers primarily to monitor the vehicle’s operation – engine speed, rpm, idling and so on -as well as driving technique and condition of components. Bob Nader, data systems coordinator for Farmington Hills, Mich.-based Blue Line Distributing, says the company’s Xata onboard computer system paid for itself in about 14 months. By pinpointing areas where fuel was being wasted, the 140-truck fleet improved its fuel economy from 4.8 mpg to 6.3 mpg.

Easier and more accurate payroll administration is another potential benefit of onboard computers. Larry Dunegan, transportation coordinator for Harris Teeter Supermarkets, has used onboard computers on his fleet’s 90 trucks for three years to download hours-of-service data into the company’s payroll system in Matthews, N.C. For Dunegan’s operation, onboard computers have eliminated errors as well as paper shuffling.

All on the card
But it’s the compliance capabilities of onboard computers that are getting the most attention as the feds continue to mull mandatory onboard recorders. This is hardly a novel concept for Kalamazoo, Mich.-based B&B Trucking, which has managed logs without paper since 1994, when it installed Tripmaster onboard computers. B&B Trucking is still quite fond of paper, however; most of its freight is mail.

At the beginning of their runs, B&B Trucking’s 120 drivers insert plastic cards into handheld terminals in their trucks. The cards collect HOS information, which is downloaded into a computer at the terminal when drivers complete their trips. Bob Keller, vice president of operations, says B&B will convert to a wireless Tripmaster system for downloading data.

B&B uses Tripmaster’s InfoTrax software to process and analyze data and formats it into customizable reports. Keller generates reports breaking down time on-duty driving and not driving, showing the number of hours a driver has left during a work period and alerting him as to which drivers, if any, have exceeded their HOS limits.

Driver acceptance
Blue Line Distributing, which enjoyed a 1.5-mpg increase after adopting onboard computers, also saves money because it no longer needs a full-time employee to file driver logs. But Nader has found a surprising benefit as well. Although Blue Lines’ drivers were apprehensive when the trip recorders were first installed on the trucks nine years ago, he says, “you couldn’t get them to switch back to paper logs today.” Not only has the Xata system eliminated the hassle of maintaining log sheets, its display instantly informs drivers of available drive time and warns them if they are about to violate HOS rules.

Mandatory onboard recorders for HOS enforcement remains controversial, but federal regulators haven’t abandoned the idea. Far from it. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently said it will use the new Cadec Mobius TTS model to train federal investigators and Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program state inspectors on a variety of subjects, including the use of onboard computers for drivers’ HOS reporting.

Dennis McGee, FMCSA special agent and training instructor, says the Mobius TTS, which runs on a Windows CE platform and has real-time, multi-mode communications capabilities, has sufficient power and memory for future expansion. More important, the system is quite user-friendly for roadside inspections, a feature that should save valuable time for both drivers and inspectors, McGee says.