Cellular vs. Bluetooth Connections: FMCSA confirms cellular ELDs are a compliance risk
FMCSA Confirms that Cellular-Based ELDs are a Compliance Risk

On May 9, 2017, FMCSA held a meeting to discuss in detail the technical specifications of ELDs. The main purpose of this meeting was to make sure that ELD manufacturers understand how to make ELDs that work as per federal regulations.

In that meeting, the FMCSA confirmed what many people have been fearing for a long time, i.e., cellular-based ELD systems are a compliance risk.

This is extremely important and can be the difference between being compliant and being non-compliant after the December 18, 2017, ELD mandate deadline. So make sure you are paying attention.

In this post, we explain:

  • What are cellular-based ELD systems?
  • What are Bluetooth-based ELD systems?
  • What does FMCSA say about cellular-based ELDs?
  • What should you do next?

One of the questions raised in the meeting was about the ELD’s connectivity with the e-log app in BYOD (bring your own device) based ELD systems.

As you know that an ELD (electronic logging device) is a hardware device connected to the vehicle’s ECM (engine control module) that records vehicle data. The recorded data has to be in sync with the driver’s mobile e-log app for the driver to stay compliant.

There are two ways ELDs relay data e-log app: via cellular networks or a Bluetooth connection. Let’s briefly define both these methods, so you have a better understanding of how this works.

What are Cellular-Based ELD Systems?

What are Cellular Based ELD Systems?

As you know that ELDs connect directly with the vehicle’s ECM (Engine Control Module) to record data. It then relays this data to the driver’s mobile device to keep logs updated.

Cellular-based ELD systems rely on cellular network and coverage for the transmission of that data between the electronic logging device and the driver’s mobile device.

In a cellular-based ELD system, the vehicle-connected electronic logging device has a built-in cellular connection. The ELD uses that cellular connection to connect to a cell tower and transmit that data to the driver’s smartphone or tablet.

Many popular ELD providers, such as Samsara, Geotab, and Fleetmatics, use cellular-based ELDs.

A Bluetooth-Based ELD System

A Bluetooth Based ELD System

Unlike the cellular-based ELD system, a Bluetooth-based ELD system relies on the Bluetooth connection to transmit data between the engine-connected ELD and the driver’s mobile device.

The ELD (which connects with the vehicle’s ECM) collects data directly from the engine of the vehicle and then relays it to the driver’s smartphone or tablet with a Bluetooth connection.

In other words, unlike the cellular-based ELD systems, a Bluetooth-based ELD system does not rely on cellular coverage or cell towers to operate.

So … Where’s the Problem?

The problem is that commercial truck drivers often have to operate in remote areas with spotty or absolutely no cellular coverage. In such a scenario, the engine-connected vehicle would not be able to transmit the data to the driver’s mobile device.

As a result, the logs will not be up to date, and the drivers will not be in compliance with the ELD requirements.

FMCSA Also Confirms the Dangers of Cellular-Based ELDs

FMCSA Confirms the Dangers of Cellular-Based ELD Systems

As mentioned earlier, FMCSA has also confirmed the dangers of cellular-based ELDs in their recent meeting held on May 09, 2017.

Danielle Smith, the Transportation Specialist, Passenger Carrier Division, answered a question and shed some light on how cellular-based ELDs can’t be 100% reliable.

This is what she said:

“If your customer is operating out West, where there is very spotty coverage, they may need to understand that [their] device may not be able to populate the driver’s Record of Duty Status if they do not have that cellular connection.”

Want to listen to the complete conversation? Here’s a video for you from that webinar.

Disclaimer: The above video isn’t created by ELD Mandate Facts. It is created and shared by KeepTruckin.

Note: During our research, we found that KeepTruckin ELDs use Bluetooth connections to transmit data between engine-connected ELDs and drivers’ mobile devices, resulting in 100% compliance even in remote areas with no cellular coverage.

What’s Next for Fleets?

Long story short, why buy a cellular-based ELD system that would always be a compliant risk?

Instead, look for an ELD system that relies on Bluetooth to sync all the data between ELDs and drivers’ mobile devices. That way, drivers will always have up-to-date data, which would help them stay compliant 24×7, regardless of where they are.

As mentioned earlier, there are several popular ELD providers that are still using cellular-based ELD connections, likeSamsara, Geotab, and Fleetmatics.

In short, this is another extremely important — although sometimes ignored — point to remember when buying an ELD. For more in-depth information and practical advice on how to pick the right ELD for your fleet, download our free guide.

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