The Complete Guide to Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs)

September 30, 2020

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Whether you’re learning about ELDs for the first time or interested in or switching ELD systems, this comprehensive guide can help. Keep reading to learn about what ELDs are, how they work, who needs them, how much they cost, and more.

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Is your fleet navigating the FMCSA emergency COVID-19 HOS suspension? Read our FAQ to learn what the new rules are, if they apply to your fleet, and how to adjust your operations to stay compliant.

As of December 16, 2019, the ELD mandate is in full effect—meaning any commercial driver who is required to maintain records of duty status (RODs) must have an electronic logging device (ELD) installed in their vehicle.

Whether you’re learning about ELDs for the first time or interested in or switching ELD systems, this comprehensive guide can help. Keep reading to learn about what ELDs are, how they work, who needs them, how much they cost, and more.

What is an electronic logging device?

An electronic logging device (ELD) is a piece of hardware used to record driving time for commercial motor vehicles. It plugs into a vehicle’s onboard diagnostics (OBD) port and captures data on the vehicle’s engine, location, speed, miles driven, and more. Under the ELD mandate, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requires that most commercial vehicles have an ELD. (Learn more about whether you’re required to have an ELD below.)

What data does an ELD record?

ELDs are mainly used to record Hours of Service (HOS)—the number of hours a commercial driver spends driving per day and how many hours they’re on-duty and off-duty per week. HOS are regulated by the federal government, and many commercial fleets are required to have an ELD system for this purpose.

However, ELDs can be used as recording devices for a variety of other data that’s helpful for fleet management. This is why ELD devices are sometimes referred to as “telematics” devices; “telematics” is a term used to describe the long-distance transmission of any computerized information.

Equipped with built-in GPS tracking, gyroscopes, and accelerometers, the best ELDs can record:

  • Drive time, HOS, and record of duty status for ELD compliance

  • Real-time GPS location

  • Engine speed and load

  • Fuel efficiency, idling, and mileage for

  • Diagnostics and fault codes

  • Safety-related events, like harsh braking or collisions

What can you use an ELD for?

Commercial motor carriers mainly use ELDs to record drive time and electronically log HOS, as required by the FMCSA’s ELD mandate. However, because ELDs record a range of informative data beyond driver logs, they are a critical component of a comprehensive fleet management system. Fleets in trucking, passenger transit, food and beverage, local government, construction, and other industries often find that ELDs are incredibly effective at improving safety, efficiency, and sustainability.

Here are a few ways that owner-operators and fleet managers use ELDs across their operations:

  • Compliance: ELDs record HOS and duty status electronically as “e-logs,” eliminating the need for paper logs or a logbook. Under the FMCSA’s ELD mandate, most commercial vehicles are required to have an ELD for this purpose. (Learn more about below.)

  • Dispatch and routing: The best ELDs (like  Samsara’s FMCSA-approved ELD system) have a built-in GPS tracker that provides real-time location information. This data can be incredibly helpful for dispatch and routing because you can see exactly where all your vehicles are at any given time, without having to call your drivers.

  • Maintenance: Because ELDs plug into a vehicle’s onboard diagnostics (OBD) port, they are able to pull critical engine data—like mileage and fault codes—for scheduling preventative maintenance and responding quickly to reactive repairs. Plus, drivers can use the smartphone app that comes with your ELD to complete electronic driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs), which increases efficiency and reduces the amount of paperwork that your back-office has to handle.

  • Safety: Many ELDs have a built-in gyroscope and accelerometer that can detect harsh events—like harsh braking, harsh turning, and collisions. You can use harsh event data to coach drivers on safe driving, and historical location data can be used to exonerate innocent drivers from false claims.

  • Security and loss prevention: The best ELD solutions include software that can help you leverage your data to improve security and prevent loss. For example, offers a geofencing feature that allows you to create a virtual boundary around any location, like a yard or terminal. Then, leveraging your ELD’s real-time GPS capabilities, you can be alerted any time a vehicle leaves your geofence—making it possible to proactively detect potential security issues or theft.

  • Reporting: ELDs enable robust reporting on the data they collect, helping fleets more easily identify areas for efficiency improvement and cost savings. For example, fleet managers can see idling time and harsh events by driver or vehicle, enabling you to more effectively coach drivers, reduce fuel costs, and minimize risky driving behavior.

Do you need to switch ELD systems or install ELDs for the first time? Get a free trial of Samsara’s FMCSA-approved ELD system. Our all-in-one platform includes everything you need to remain compliant, increase efficiency, and improve safety across your business—with features for preventing theftscheduling preventive maintenance, and coaching drivers, and more.

How does an electronic logging device work?

An ELD works by plugging into a vehicle’s onboard diagnostics (OBD) port and pulling data directly from the engine—including whether the engine is on or off, how much fuel has been used, and how far it has traveled. In addition, ELDs have a built-in GPS tracker that uses the global satellite system to determine the precise location of your vehicles.

The best ELD devices provide real-time location information—meaning the location of your vehicles is live-to-the-second, rather than “breadcrumb” location data that is updated every few minutes. They also include built-in gyroscopes and accelerometers, which can detect movement and provide visibility into safety-related events, like harsh braking or turning.

In addition to collecting data, ELDs can also transmit data—both constantly (to the fleet managers in your back office) and on a one-off basis (to the DOT during roadside inspections).

How does an ELD transmit data?

ELDs can transmit data in a few different ways. Most use either cellular service (via a data plan with a provider like AT&T) or Bluetooth to transmit data between the ELD device and the driver’s mobile app, which is used for logging HOS.

In addition to a cellular connection, some ELD systems—like Samsara—include a built-in WiFi hotspot. This can also be used for transmitting data between the ELD device and a mobile app. Plus, built-in WiFi provides mobile connectivity for drivers, which enables drivers to access electronic work orders, email, and other productivity applications on the road.

How do you transfer ELD data to the DOT during a roadside inspection?

Roadside inspections are a key part of how the DOT enforces the ELD mandate’s Hours of Service regulations. At any given time, your commercial drivers can be pulled over by a Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP) Inspector, who will need to review the driver’s RODs (as recorded by the ELD) for the past seven days to ensure there are no violations.

At a minimum, ELDs must support a “local” data transfer—sharing data with a roadside inspector via USB or Bluetooth. In addition, there are two approved methods for sharing ELD data with a roadside inspector via “telematics” data transfers:

  1. Wireless Web Services: This option will send your ELD data to the DOT via a secure server.

  2. Email: This option will send your ELD data to the DOT via an encrypted email.

While the ELD mandate requires that both methods are available, the FMCSA has found that email is less reliable than the Wireless Web Services option. Therefore, the FMCSA recommends that drivers use the Wireless Web Services method during roadside inspections. You can learn more about the different types of ELD data transfers in this infographic from the FMCSA.

Samsara’s ELD system is 100% approved by the FMCSA and is reliable and easy for drivers to use. Samsara ELDs include a built-in WiFi hotspot, with 500MB of WiFi data included at no extra cost. Learn more about Samsara or request a free 30-day trial to get started.

Who needs an electronic logging device?

It’s not just long-haul trucking companies that are required to have ELDs. If you are part of a business that operates commercial vehicles, you may be required to have ELDs under the federal ELD mandate. Keep reading to learn about the ELD mandate and see whether you’re required to have the devices installed in your vehicles.

What does the ELD mandate cover?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is the part of the federal government responsible for regulating commercial motor vehicles. In 2015, the FMCSA published the ELD mandate (sometimes referred to as the ELD rule), which requires drivers who operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) and maintain records of duty status (RODs) to have an ELD.

The purpose of the ELD mandate is to create an easier, more accurate way to track and manage RODs, with the ultimate goal of increasing safety. By preventing data tampering, the FMCSA hopes to not only modernize the compliance process but also save thousands of lives annually by ensuring that commercial drivers comply with federal Hours of Service regulations.

The final ELD deadline was December 16, 2019. Now, any commercial drivers who maintain RODs must have an FMCSA-approved ELD installed in their vehicle in order to avoid penalties, including possible fines and vehicles being put out of service.

How to know if you need ELDs

ELDs aren’t just for truck drivers. In fact, under the ELD mandate, many different types of businesses that operate commercial motor vehicles are required to have ELDs—including construction companies, passenger transit businesses, and more.

You are required to have ELDs if:

  • You have commercial drivers who are required to consistently track and maintain records of duty status (RODs). (Not sure whether or not you’re required to maintain RODs? Read more about federal RODs requirements on the Department of Transportation (DOT) website.)

You are exempt from the ELD mandate and do not need to maintain RODs if:

You are exempt from the ELD mandate but still need to maintain RODs (via paper logs or AOBRDs) if:

  • You have drivers who are required to keep RODs for 8 days or less within any 30-day period.

  • You have drivers who only conduct driveaway-towaway operations where the vehicle is being delivered.

  • Your vehicles were manufactured before the year 2000.

There are a few other exemptions that may apply, especially if you work in agriculture. Learn more about federal regulations in our ELD exemption guidecomprehensive ELD mandate explainer, or our complete guide to HOS.

How are ELDs different from an AOBRDs?

If you were using automatic onboard recording devices (AOBRDs) to record HOS before the ELD mandate took effect, you may be wondering: what’s the difference? AOBRDs and ELDs are both electronic devices that record a driver's HOS, but an ELD provides more advanced recording features that make it compliant with the FMCSA’s ELD mandate.

Here are the three major differences between AOBRDs and ELDs:

  1. Recorded information: AOBRDs and ELDs both record the date, vehicle mileage, engine hours, location information, and driver's duty status. However, AOBRD devices do not capture information about the driver, whether the vehicle is on or off, or engine diagnostics—whereas ELDs do.

  2. Speed: ELDs automatically record drive time when the vehicle is moving at 5 mph or above; AOBRDs require fleet managers to manually set a speeding threshold that triggers drive time.

  3. Edit functionality: AOBRDs and ELDs both record who made an edit and when, but ELDs require every edit to include an annotation, and edit history must be available to DOT inspectors.

If you still have AOBRDs and need to switch to ELDs, download our free guide on how to make a smooth transition from AOBRDs to ELDs. If you’re ready to make the switch, request a free 30-day trial of Samsara’s FMCSA-approved ELD solution.

How much does an electronic logging device cost?

If you’re required to have ELDs under the FMCSA’s ELD mandate, you may be wondering: how much will it cost?

The cost of an ELD system can vary greatly. Firstly, the cost of the hardware itself depends on what vendor you choose and how many vehicles you have. But there are other, less apparent factors that can affect the overall cost, too.

Factors that affect ELD cost

Here are a few things to keep in mind when evaluating the cost of different ELD systems:

  • Hardware: The cost of the ELD device itself can vary, depending on what vendor you choose. Some vendors will offer volume-based discounts, so you may pay less per device if you have a large fleet.

  • Accessory devices: In addition to the ELD devices themselves, you will likely need some sort of smartphone device—like an iPhone or Android tablet—that your drivers can use to mark their duty status on a mobile app. Certain vendors require you to buy proprietary accessory devices, but Samsara lets you “bring your own device” (BYOD), which is usually less expensive.

  • Installation: Ease of installation can have a huge impact on cost, especially if you have a large fleet with multiple terminals. Some ELD vendors require that you use (and pay for) their installation technicians, which can quickly add up.  Samsara’s ELD devices can be installed in minutes by anyone, a more flexible and less expensive solution for most fleets.

  • Training: Time is money—and some ELD systems require more training time than others. When evaluating ELD systems, look for software that’s intuitive and modern, so drivers and fleet managers can easily pick it up with minimal training.

  • Add-on fees: Some ELD vendors will charge more for features beyond basic GPS tracking, like diagnostics and data plans. Samsara is all-inclusive—meaning you get the entire platform for one monthly fee, no surprises.

Try before you buy. Samsara offers an FMCSA-approved ELD system that’s simple to install, easy to use, and all-inclusive—every feature is included at no added cost. Request a free trial today to get started.

What are the benefits of electronic logging devices?

If you’re required to have an ELD by the federal government, you may be concerned that they won’t be worth the cost. But because ELDs record so much helpful data beyond just HOS, they can be extremely beneficial across your entire fleet’s operations. Here are a few key benefits of ELDs that go beyond compliance.

7 benefits of ELDs beyond compliance

  1. Less administrative work: ELDs essentially automate HOS, reducing the amount of time your compliance managers have to spend reviewing logs and preparing for audits. In just a few clicks, you can find the information you need—and you can be confident that it’s accurate, since it was recorded automatically rather than manually.

  2. Faster dispatch: With visibility into the real-time GPS location of all your vehicles, dispatchers can work faster and more effectively. ELDs eliminate the need to call drivers; you can update drivers’ routes and provide accurate ETAs using your ELD system.

  3. Better driver experience: For many drivers, the ability to record their duty status and HOS on a mobile app (rather than a paper log) is more convenient. Electronic logbooks are easier to update and maintain than paper logbooks, making for a better driver experience.

  4. Increased fuel efficiency: ELD systems like Samsara provide real-time visibility into fuel usage, enabling your back-office staff to more effectively coach drivers. By helping reduce engine idling and increase fuel efficiency, ELD systems can save your fleet thousands of dollars or more in fuel costs per year.

  5. Improved safety: Safety managers can use harsh event data from your ELD system—including data on harsh braking, harsh turning, and collisions—to coach drivers and reduce risky driving behavior. When paired with footage from connected dash cams, ELD systems can be an effective tool for decreasing accidents and improving CSA scores.

  6. Reduced liability: With the ability to prove the location of your vehicles at any given time, an ELD system can help you exonerate drivers from false claims, such as allegations of damage that occurred when none of your drivers were nearby. Plus, when paired with footage from connected dash cams, you can also exonerate drivers from accidents that occur but are not their fault.

  7. Competitive advantage: The real-time location data that ELDs provide can be used as a competitive advantage—no matter what industry you’re in. For example, less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers use real-time GPS data to share vehicle locations with broker apps, earning more per load. Passenger transit fleets use real-time GPS data to share live ETAs with their customers, increasing customer satisfaction.

Want to learn more about the benefits of ELDs? Check out our customer case studies to see how Samsara increases efficiency, safety, and sustainability. Or, request a free trial today to see how Samsara can impact your business firsthand.

What is the best electronic logging device?

There are a lot of different ELDs available for purchase—but not all are created equal.

Some ELDs require you to purchase additional in-cab hardware for your drivers to use, which can get expensive. And not all include real-time GPS tracking; some only offer “breadcrumb” location data, which is updated every few minutes rather than in real time. Some ELD vendors also charge more for add-on software features, like alerts, preventative maintenance schedules, and eDVIRs.

For most fleets, the best ELD is one that’s:

  • Easy to install

  • Reliable

  • Simple for drivers and fleet managers to use

  • Offers additional features beyond compliance without charging you more

If those factors are important to you, consider Samsara’s FMCSA-approved ELD—a reliable, easy-to-use electronic logging device.

3 reasons to choose Samsara for ELD compliance

  1. Samsara offers real-time GPS tracking: Samsara’s GPS tracking is truly live-to-the-second, whereas other ELD systems only offer “breadcrumb” data that pings every few minutes.  Real-time GPS makes it possible to prevent theft, dispatch drivers without having to call them, and provide customers with accurate, reliable ETAs.

  2. Samsara lets you bring your own tablets or smartphones: Some ELD vendors require you to buy their proprietary devices. Samsara lets you “bring your own device” (BYOD), which is less expensive for fleets that already have tablets or smartphones mounted in the cabs of their vehicles. Often times, drivers are more familiar with using tablets or smartphones, making it faster and easier to get them onboarded to a new system.

  3. Samsara is one unified platform for compliance, efficiency, and safety: Samsara isn’t just an ELD solution—it’s an all-in-one fleet management platform that can help with dispatch, routing, maintenance, safety, and more. We don’t nickel-and-dime our customers for additional features. Samsara is designed to grow with your needs, featuring devices beyond ELDs—including dash cams, temperature monitors, and asset trackers—that can help you achieve your other goals beyond compliance. In fact,  90% of customers say Samsara has helped improve safety  within their fleet.

Whether you’re or looking to switch ELD providers, Samsara offers the best FMCSA-approved ELD system available. Not only is it simple to install and easy to use—it’s also all-inclusive, so you get every feature at no added cost. Request a free trial today to get started.

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