Here’s the down and dirty. We bought a tablet from Sprint called the “Slate” for $100 and activated it on our account for $25 per month as part of our existing unlimited Sprint data plan. Simple Truck ELD charges a flat rate month to month, quarterly, or on an annual basis. We shelled out $69 for a 3-month package. Simple Truck ELD has a straight forward proposition, buy time on their platform and walk away anytime. Smart marketing on the part of Simple Truck ELD to make a newbie feel like they will never be held hostage against their will by a subscription plan or a big investment in the technology interface.
Simple Truck ELD sends you a welcome e-mail with a link to set up your account, and by mail they send a small device (transponder) that plugs into the truck’s CPU port. Plug in the transponder and bring the truck online via your own tablet and a wi-fi connection transmitted from the Simple Truck ELD transponder. Yeah, that’s right a wi-fi connection and NOT an unpredictable blue-tooth connection. Enough said with that feature.
Since we were setting up a 2015 Dodge Ram 3500 we also needed a converter cable ($25) to convert the round plug on the ELD transponder to fit the 16-pin rectangular shaped CPU on our truck. The guys in the “big trucks” don’t need the converter. A Dodge Ram CPU connector is like a car, not a Kenworth, and has the 16-pin CPU plug. Using the convert plug we connected to the Dodge Ram CPU port, looked for a Wi-Fi signal on our tablet. Like magic, our "el-cheapo" tablet found the wi-fi signal, and we were linked!
We’re not total thrilled by the Slate Tablet from Sprint which is an Android platform but the price was right, and even as a life-long Apple user, we were able to navigate the set up, download the Simple Truck ELD App via the Google Play Store, and log in. So far so good.
The instructions say open the app, log in, and in a few minutes the truck information should populate into the app. This is data like the Vin # of the truck and engine RPM’s. We didn’t see this data show up for a little over an hour, but the app is fairly intuitive, and as a C+ student of technology we found navigating the app reasonable. We had a little bit of trouble at first finding the tab to update duty status… but then figured it out.
First, “On Duty-Not Driving” for our pre-trip inspection, then changed to “On Duty-Driving” as we rolled towards Ohio. The whole set up including the new account info was less than an hour to the point where were ready to enter a duty status. Since this was our first trip with an ELD, and being a cautious belt and suspender's type of guy, we rolled with a paper log as the “official” log book for the truck while running the Simple Truck ELD. This trip was intended to be a dry run trial of their system.
Once the set up was done and the truck data populated onto the tablet we made duty status changes all day just like the paper log… but with no worries about figuring out what city the turnpike rest area is located for a snack and a bathroom break, all recorded by the ELD, by just updating the status.
Here’s where it got interesting. Nearly out of drive time we rolled into a truck stop east of Columbus, OH in position to deliver cars the next morning. So, naturally we changed our duty status to “Off Duty” for our 10-hour break. The next-morning we thought hmmm…. Let’s see what this ELD’s up to, and sure enough a nice straight computer-generated line was struck across the Off Duty line on the Hours of Service Grid. Nice! This thing is actually working.
But, just working isn’t good enough, lets really take this thing for a test drive. So, we updated our official paper log and made no status changes to the ELD, and headed out for our deliveries. Over the next 3-4 hours we emptied the trailer and made the turn back east towards Delaware. All in all, moving the truck over 100 miles while the ELD did nothing… still showing an “Off Duty” status no alerts, no warnings, not a peep. As The truck rolled east on I-70 at highway speed the electronic log was still drawing a perfectly straight line for “Off Duty.”
This doesn’t seem right, all the hype around ELD’s in trucks, isn’t this thing going record ALL the truck movement to be FMCSA compliant? The truck has rolled over 100 miles “Off Duty.” Will the truck shut down any moment? Looking ahead we see a helicopter hovering over the highway. OMG, they put up a road block! Busted for driving Off Duty. Good thing I have a paper log! Unplug the damn thing right now and throw it out the window… maybe they’ll look for me in that corn field!
A slight over-reaction yes, but after all the hand wringing and whining about the ELD mandate, it’s not that far-fetched to think the ELD will control our lives on the road to the extent that if I move a truck to get a better parking spot while off duty, there’s a violation involved. Not so with the Simple Truck ELD. There was no manhunt, the helicopter was part of a Fall Festival near the highway, and we drove over 100 miles “Off Duty” and lived to tell the story.
So what’s the deal? After talking to the nice man on Simple Truck ELD’s tech support team, we learned a few things that put the ELD mandate into perspective. And, the main point is this… Hours of Service compliance is a “self-regulated” requirement. Drivers are responsible for keeping accurate log books, and the ELD is a tool the FMCSA has required drivers to start using effective December 17th. If a driver moves a truck 100-miles while Off Duty it’s a violation no matter if the log is paper or electronic. The ELD brings undisputed accuracy into the compliance transaction, but the driver still must follow the rules and enter status changes, which are self-regulated events. Not changing the duty status from "Off Duty" to "On Duty-Driving" before the truck moves is a driver error and not an ELD error. Just like forgetting to change status on a paper log is a violation, the same mistake on an ELD would be a violation. We have a better understanding that an ELD is a compliance tool, and NOT a compliance enforcement device.
An ELD system must be connected to the truck, but it doesn’t have to shut down the truck, or deploy a man-hunt, to be FMCSA compliant. The “big brother” is watching hype is over blown by drivers that are technology adverse, or want to break the rules… which will be much harder after December 17th. It was only 2-days but we liked our Simple Truck ELD experience, and intend to keep using it.