How to Find the ELD Data to Prove the Truck Driver is at Fault
By Adam J. Langino, Esq.
Collisions with a tractor-trailer (or 18-wheeler) often result in catastrophic injuries for motor vehicle occupants. Typically, the truck driver walks away, and the person they hit is airlifted to the nearest hospital. That means the police only speak to the truck driver to find out how the collision occurred. This article discusses the electronic evidence available to an injured person to help them refute the one-sided story the truck driver inevitably gives to the police about who is at fault.
What are Electronic Logging Devices or ELDs?
Older truck drivers typically refer to their electronic logging device as a “Qualcomm,” like a person sometimes refers to a copy as a “Xerox.” Today, Qualcomm is primarily a semiconductor and software company. However, it pioneered trucking software in the 1980s and 1990s.[i] After a series of mergers and acquisitions, what older truck drivers call “Qualcomm” is now known as “Omnitracs.”[ii]
Omnitracs is an onboard computer system that includes messaging, GPS navigation, an electronic logging device, and more. Electronic Logging Devices (or “ELDs”) are defined by Section 32301(b) of the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Enhancement Act.
An ELD is a technology that automatically records a driver’s driving time and other aspects of the hours-of-service (HOS) records. An ELD monitors a vehicle’s engine to capture data on whether the engine is running, if the truck is moving, miles driven, and the duration of engine operation (engine hours). With an ELD, Law enforcement can review a driver’s hours of service by viewing the ELD’s display screen, by a printout from the ELD, and by retrieving data electronically from the ELD.[iii]
What trucks have ELDs?
Most motor carriers, truck drivers, and commercial buses must have an ELD.[iv] While many ELDs, like Omnitracs, are standalone devices, an ELD can also be an application on a smartphone or other wireless device.[v] ELDs may also be portable if mounted in a fixed position and visible to the driver from a normal seated position while in use.[vi]
However, some truck drivers are not required to have an ELD. “Drivers who use the short-haul, timecard exceptions are not required to keep records of duty status (RODS) or use ELDs.”[vii] Further, the following drivers are not required to use ELDs:[viii]
Drivers who are required to keep RODS not more than eight days within any 30 days.
Drivers conducting a drive-away-tow-away operation, (a process in which an empty or unladen motor vehicle with one or more sets of wheels on the surface of the roadway is being transported) if the vehicle being driven is the commodity being delivered, or if the vehicle being transported is a motorhome or recreational vehicle trailer.
Drivers of vehicles manufactured before the model year 2000.
According to the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“U.S. FMCSA”), if a driver subject to the ELD rule is stopped for a roadside inspection and does not have an ELD installed, the U.S. government inspector will cite the driver for failing to have a required electronic record of duty status (RODS) and will place the driver out of service (OOS) for 10 hours.[ix][x]
According to the U.S. FMCSA, “[at] the end of the OOS period, the driver can complete the current trip to his or her destination using paper logs. If the driver is stopped again before the destination, the driver will be asked to provide the safety official a copy of the inspection report and evidence (e.g., bill of lading) proving he/she is continuing the original trip. After reaching the destination, if the driver is dispatched without obtaining a compliant ELD, he/she will again be subject to the OOS procedures. However, a driver may return with an empty commercial motor vehicle (CMV) to his/her principal place of business or home terminal, as indicated on the roadside inspection report.”[xi]
What types of data do ELDs capture?
The U.S. Federal government requires ELDs to capture a lot of data. According to the U.S. FMCSA, at certain intervals, an ELD automatically records the date; time; location information; engine hours; vehicle miles; and identification information for the driver, authenticated user, vehicle, and motor carrier.[xii]
Every 60 minutes, location data must be recorded when the vehicle is in motion. Location data is also recorded when the driver powers up and shuts down the engine, changes duty status, and indicates personal use or yard moves.[xiii]
The location data is insufficient to precisely identify the street addresses on which the driver was traveling.[xiv] However, the ELD location data is specific enough to indicate the approximate distance and direction to an identifiable location corresponding to the name of a nearby city, town, or village.[xv]
While a driver is on-duty, the location accuracy is required to be within a 1-mile radius. However, when the driver uses the truck off-duty or for personal use, location data accuracy is only needed within a 10-mile radius.[xvi]
ELDs are not required to collect data on vehicle speed, braking action, steering function, or other vehicle performance parameters. ELDs are only required to collect data to determine compliance with hours of service (HOS) regulations.[xvii] There are other devices on a tractor-trailer that captures this data.
ELD data files are required to be outputted as a standard comma-delimited file.[xviii] For those that are not tech-savvy, standard comma-delimited files are commonly referred to as “.csv” files. For example, if you ever exported your e-mail contacts, you likely did so as a .csv. “
How is ELD data helpful if an 18-wheeler hits you?
Tractor trailers often weigh 20 to 30 times more than passenger cars.[xix] In the many tractor-trailer collisions I have investigated, the truck driver is the only person who walks away from the crash. By the time the police arrive, typically, the driver of the passenger car is in an ambulance, EMS helicopter, or, worse, dead. That means that the investigating officer often gets a one-sided story from the truck driver who was at fault for the collision.
ELD data helps the injured prove they were not at fault for the collision. For example, the ELD data may show that the truck driver was drowsy, tired, or exhausted. Statistics show that a driver is three times more likely to be involved in a car crash if they are driving fatigued.[xx] A skilled lawyer that understands ELD data will be able to decipher it to make a compelling argument that the truck driver was too tired to drive.
The ELD data will also show the driver’s route of travel. By understanding the driver’s travel route, a skilled lawyer can deduce whether the truck driver was driving for more hours than is allowed by law. That lawyer may also use the location data to show that the truck driver was rushing or going too fast. For example, if the truck driver’s location data showed he made a 60-mile trip in 45 minutes, that is likely credible evidence that the truck driver was rushing at the time of the collision.
The ELD data will also show whether the truck driver was working during the collision. Many individuals are underinsured. However, many companies carry more insurance than individuals. If the truck driver were working at the time of the crash, then their commercial insurance (as opposed to personal insurance) would cover the harm and damage they caused. For the injured person with mounting medical bills and facing lifelong disability, more insurance coverage means more opportunities to be made whole from the losses they suffered.
I am sorry if you are reading this because you or someone you love has been injured in a trucking collision. I hope that you find the above helpful to you. As you can see, crashes involving trucks have different considerations than those involving other motor vehicles. That is why it is critical to retain an experienced lawyer to help you navigate these types of claims. Over my career, I have handled many truck collision claims, and I am licensed to practice law in Florida and North Carolina and co-counsel claims in other states. If you would like to learn more about me or my practice, click here. If you want to request a free consultation, click here. As always, stay safe and stay well.
[i] “Omnitracs' First 30 Years.” Omnitracs, 4 Apr. 2018, https://www.omnitracs.com/blog/omnitracs-first-30-years.
[iii] “ELD Fact Sheet.” FMCSA, 17 Oct. 2017, https://bit.ly/3FQvzr3
[iv] “General Information about the ELD Rule.” FMCSA, 18 Apr. 2018, https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/hours-service/elds/general-information-about-eld-rule.
[vii] “Who Is Exempt from the ELD Rule?” FMCSA, 19 Sept. 2018, https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/hours-service/elds/who-exempt-eld-rule.
[ix] “If a Driver Subject to the Electronic Logging Device (ELD) Rule Is Stopped for a Roadside Inspection and Does Not Have a Required ELD Installed and in Use in the Vehicle Being Operated, What Will Happen?” FMCSA, 4 May 2018, https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/hours-service/elds/if-driver-subject-electronic-logging-device-eld-rule-stopped-roadside-inspection.
[x] “Who Is Exempt from the ELD Rule?” FMCSA, 19 Sept. 2018, https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/hours-service/elds/who-exempt-eld-rule.
[xii] “ELD Functions FAQS.” FMCSA, 10 Mar. 2022, https://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/hours-service/elds/eld-functions-faqs.
[xix] “Fatality Facts 2020: Large Trucks.” IIHS, May 2022, https://www.iihs.org/topics/fatality-statistics/detail/large-trucks.
[xx] “Fatigued Driving.” National Safety Council, bit.ly/3YLnMCD