A Quick Primer on FMCSA Compliance Investigations and Audits of Driver ELD Records
With the ELD mandate now in full effect, hours of service (HOS) compliance has changed for both drivers and fleets. It has also changed how the government audits driver and carrier records.
To help you understand how Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) investigators review and audit ELD records for driver hours of service (HOS) compliance, we have put together a primer on some key components of these investigations. A few basics first:
What is a Compliance Investigation – As the name implies, a compliance investigation (or CI) is a way for FMCSA to ensure motor carriers are following the agency’s safety rules. During a CI, a safety investigator conducts a detailed review of specific compliance elements of a carriers’ operation. FMCSA conducts two types of CIs: (1) a full CI which covers all compliance elements of a carrier’s operation and are typically performed on-site at the carrier’s main office, and (2) a focused CI which usually covers one or two compliance areas, such as HOS compliance. Focused CIs can be performed on-site at the carrier’s main office, or entirely off-site. If you’d like to learn more about off-site investigations, a link is provided at the bottom of this article.
Full CIs typically result in the carrier being assigned a new safety rating of Satisfactory, Conditional, or Unsatisfactory. Focused CIs do not.
ELDs and Compliance Investigations –ELDs have changed the way FMCSA investigates HOS compliance in several important ways. Most significantly, ELDs and FMCSA-created software called “eRODS” have made it much easier for safety investigators to collect and analyze HOS data.
Basic Elements of an HOS-focused/ELD Records Compliance Investigation
All HOS/ELD investigations include certain checks that carriers should be aware of and for which they should prepare.
The safety investigator will interview carrier personnel to understand their operations. This may include requesting a demonstration of each step of a typical trip including how a movement is booked, planned, dispatched and monitored. The investigator may also follow-up with payroll and accounts receivable as well as drivers to ask specific operational questions to understand the carrier’s process from start to finish.
- Requesting ELD records and ‘back office’ reports
Investigators will typically request 30 days of ELD records for a sample of drivers they select, as well as various ‘back office’ reports as they begin to determine compliance. Common ELD-related back office reports include unassigned driving mile reports, edit reports and violation reports.
- Searching for violations
Here is where the rubber meets the road. Investigators will use eRODS software to conduct a detailed review of each change of duty status on the ELD record’s graph grid and compare it to the detailed event by event data on the ELD record (below the graph grid) to look for HOS rule violations.
- Checking unassigned driving miles
Investigators consider unassigned driving miles a key source of possible HOS fraud. They will check for unassigned driving miles in the ELD record header and the unassigned miles report and ask for an explanation if none is provided.
- Reviewing edits
Investigators will pay extra attention to edits made to drivers’ ELD records to verify they were proper by comparing them against ELD record detailed data and evaluating the reasons.
Looking for Falsified ELD records
There are several techniques investigators use to identify falsified ELD records. Below are some of these techniques. Knowing what they will be looking for will help carriers conduct internal audits and avoid potentially negative CI results.
- Using different logins
Investigators will review login and logout activity to determine if a driver used another login to gain additional hours, or if drivers failed to login to avoid HOS violations.
- Duty status change locations
Investigators will look to match the locations of the last off-duty status with that of next on-duty status to verify the accuracy of ELD record entries.
- Personal conveyance use
Personal conveyance is viewed by FMCSA as the most common source of potential false ELD record violations meaning investigators will closely scrutinize personal conveyance use to determine if it adheres to FMCSA guidance.
- Malfunctions and Data Diagnostics
Malfunctions and data diagnostics can indicate possible tampering or a carrier’s failure to address malfunctions and repair an ELD as required and are of particular interest to safety investigators.
- Supporting Documents
Despite ELD’s superior accuracy over paper logs, supporting documents remain an important tool investigators use to identify ELD record falsification. Investigators will look to match certain supporting documents (e.g., payroll records) to verify the accuracy of drivers’ ELD records.
- Using different logins
Being prepared is critical to successfully navigate an HOS/ELD records compliance investigation. Understanding what investigators are looking for and the methods and tools they will use to verify compliance with HOS rules will help carriers be prepared.
For further reading, you can find out more about FMCSA Off-site Compliance Investigations as well as get additional details on the FMCSA’s eRODS software.