By Bob Pitcher, State Laws Newsletter.
Be careful! – The discussions at last month’s annual meeting of the International Registration Plan emphasized once again the problems motor carriers may have in using their electronic logging devices to produce IRP and International Fuel Tax Agreement records, unless the carriers make sure the ELDs will do the job. The U.S. DOT’s rule requiring carriers to use ELDs to comply with the federal hours-of-service requirements takes effect (for many carriers, at least) this December. There’s no requirement at all that carriers use ELDs for IRP and IFTA compliance, but since ELDs will be required to track and produce records of a vehicle’s movements for hours of service, it’s expected many carriers will want to use an ELD for both functions. And some ELDs are able to. But not all of them, by any means!
First off, IRP and IFTA requirements are not the same as the HOS requirements. Both the agreements require carriers to track their vehicles much more precisely, and be able to prove to an auditor just where they went. An ELD that serves perfectly well for purposes of the HOS regulations may not be able to do that. Second, hours-of-service records pertain to the driver, not the vehicle. A carrier operation in which drivers frequently change vehicles may have trouble maintaining consistent records for IRP and IFTA through the use of ELDs. Third, HOS records must be kept for 6 months. IRP and IFTA records must be kept for from four to over five years. If ELD records are to be maintained by a third party, a carrier using them for IRP and IFTA as well as HOS has to make sure those records will still be there when the IRP or IFTA auditor comes to call.
How can carriers protect themselves? First, there’s no requirement under IRP and IFTA that a carrier use an electronic system at all to produce its IRP and IFTA records, let alone an ELD. But if a carrier wants to do so, it should not rely on an ELD supplier’s mere say-so that its product will serve for IRP and IFTA as well as HOS. An ELD salesman may or may not be counted on to know how HOS requirements differ from IRP and IFTA’s. A carrier will need to dig deeper until the supplier comes up with solid answers to the right questions. If the supplier is going to maintain the carrier’s ELD records, one of those questions must be whether the records will be kept not just for 6 months, but for the much longer period required under IRP and IFTA.
Neither IRP nor IFTA ever “certify” a specific product as IRP- or IFTA-compliant. So, if a supplier says its product has been certified by IRP or IFTA, it should be a danger signal. On the other hand, most states and provinces will come out and look at the record-keeping system of a carrier based there to see if the system produces adequate IRP and IFTA records. Even if a carrier’s ELDs could produce good IRP and IFTA records, a lot may depend on how the devices are incorporated into the carrier’s overall record-keeping and reporting system. The carrier’s base state should be willing to give an opinion on that, and it could well be worth having up-front rather than two or three years later, when it’s audit time. Finally, a carrier should give itself time enough to shop around for ELDs, in order to find one that will do all the carrier needs it to. Starting to look late this fall is just asking for trouble.