How ELDs Are Transforming Logistics

Aug 31, 2023

It’s estimated the trucking industry moved upwards of $940B in gross freight revenue across the U.S. in 2022, with roughly 13 million registered vehicles dedicated to transporting goods nationwide. The sheer volume of goods moved each day means even the slightest operational change carries noticeable impact on how carriers manage their day-to-day challenges.

The incorporation of electronic logging devices (ELDs) into everyday commercial transport was federally mandated in 2016, in an effort to reduce accidents and ensure driver hours of service were being properly observed. Nearly eight years later, the advantages derived from the devices’ data tracking abilities have been largely embraced (though the devices themselves are not without controversy).

Here’s how mandatory ELD integration transformed carrier business models — and why its effects on overall driver safety remain up for debate.

ELD Technology and Federally Mandated Compliance

Under federal law, a “commercial vehicle” describes any vehicle with a gross weight of 10,000+ pounds. Most commercial vehicles will weigh significantly more when fully loaded with goods — depending on the state, some trucks* can weigh in at over 150,000 pounds.


*The federal vehicle weight limits are 80,000 pounds gross vehicle weight, 20,000 pounds on a single axle, and 34,000 pounds on a tandem axle group. States, however, often have different limits.

Even with modern advancements in driver assistance technologies, the potential damage a 40-ton commercial truck could inflict on your average mid-size SUV (roughly 6000 lbs) is exponential.

The inherent dangers posed by large vehicles sharing major roads with civilians prompted the Interstate Commerce Commission to issue the first driver regulations way back in 1937, limiting the number of consecutive hours a driver can drive each day and over the course of a week. These limits (known today as hours of service (HOS) regulations) have evolved over the years in an effort to protect driver health and safety.

However, with drivers and carriers traditionally incentivised to log more deliveries more quickly for more money, enforcing these regulations had traditionally proven a difficult endeavor.

By late 2017, modern tech had finally served up the answer. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) mandated all commercial trucks utilize wireless tracking to achieve full transparency into truck movements, incorporating ELDs into every commercial cab by 2019.

The gadget itself is relatively simple. Built to plug directly into the onboard diagnostics port on commercial vehicles, an ELD captures and records a carrier vehicle’s location, speed and total miles driven in order to create a complete driving time record. By law, today’s commercial vehicles are required to have an ELD (with very, very few exceptions).

4 Ways Trucking Has Changed Since 2017’s ELD Mandate

1. Compliance Rates Are Demonstrably Better

Logging driver service hours with pen and paper always included a high risk for human errors and costly violations (violations generally met with severe penalties and fees — no good). ELDs have made a measurable improvement on drivers observing HOS guidelines by taking necessary breaks.

2. Automation Has Become Mainstream

ELDs set the stage for automated administrative tasks within the industry, reducing paperwork and making critical information more readily accessible to drivers and carriers. Automation has reduced administrative burdens significantly, allowing for more careful analysis of driver performance, seasonal trends and potential bottlenecks and slowdowns.

3. Truckers Aren’t Necessarily Driving Any Safer

Drivers were intended to be some of the biggest beneficiaries of the ELD mandate. Knowing every mile is tracked would incentivize drivers to take their required breaks and add a layer of protection to their movements in the event of severe weather or mechanical breakdown.

However, while ELDs may shield drivers from unethical shippers intent on skirting the boundaries of HOS regulations in the name of faster delivery times, some studies show drivers themselves might be driving more recklessly to make up for “lost time,” marked by an increase in unsafe driving and speeding citations.

4. Carrier Business Models Have Adapted

ELDs have had a profound impact on both shipper and carrier operations by enabling both parties to make data-driven decisions. Compliance management and HOS reporting have been drastically simplified, and real-time insights into driver behaviors have improved performance analyses and made it possible to more easily identify high-risk drivers.

ELDs also produce more reliable delivery estimates to customers and dispatch drivers, resulting in higher rates of customer satisfaction.

The Future of ELDs in Trucking

So, what impact might ELDs have on the future of trucking? For starters, further technological improvements and applications are almost certainly on the way.

Many companies are exploring hardware alternatives such as cloud-based ELDs and ELD mobile apps. There’s also a growing market for tracking devices which integrate seamlessly with transportation management systems (TMS) and dispatching software to help further streamline workflows and improve the operational efficiency of the entire fleet.

Of course, there also remain many untapped possibilities offered by advancements in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. While not yet standard-issue, AI-powered ELDs providing optimal routes based on real-time vehicle and traffic data could be on the horizon.

All in all, ELDs are the gadget we have to thank for many of the opportunities carriers and shippers now see for technology in the shipping space. As drivers and carriers continue to take advantage of ELD tracking data, we’re likely to see the industry take additional strides forward in transportation safety, efficiency and sustainability.

The 3PL You’ve Been Looking For

Building and managing cost-efficient supply chains is a full-time job. First Call’s rare combination of in-house assets, expert problem-solving and track record of stellar customer service makes us the 3PL of choice for carrier partners looking to make the most of their miles.

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– Wayne, Carrier

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