To prevent driver fatigue and accidents involving commercial motor vehicles, the FMCSA created a long list of hours-of-service rules and four different daily and weekly clocks to help manage driver’s on-duty time.
These four clocks include the:
- 14-hour rule
- 11-hour rule
- 34-hour reset
- 60-hour/7-day rule or the 70-hour/8-day rule
To help manage these clocks, all truck drivers operating commercial motor vehicles are required to keep a daily log of their resting and working hours in a paper or electronic (ELD) logbook.
When the ELD mandate was first being rolled out in 2017, false driver log violations were on the rise and the expectation then was that the ELD would be harder to manipulate or would encourage drivers to be more honest with their daily driver logs.
But what happened?
Well, according to 2017 CVSA International Roadcheck inspection blitz, 16.4% of driver out-of-service violations were from false logs. In 2019, the blitz found 14.7% received the same out-of-service false log violation and 2021 saw 16.6% of US drivers being placed OOS during the blitz.
The FMCSA MCMIS data is no different.
Over the last 5 years (including the 2020 pandemic), drivers being caught for “false report of drivers record of duty status” looked like this:
- 2018: 3.25% of OOS violations were for false logs
- 2019: 4.16% of OOS violations were for false logs
- 2020: 4.58% of OOS violations were for false logs
- 2021: 5.57% of OOS violations were for false logs
- 2022: 5.91% of OOS violations were for false logs
Why do drivers and carriers falsify logbooks?
It all comes down to money.
Truckers are incentivized to drive as much as possible to make themselves money or make shippers more money if cargo arrives ahead of schedule.
This leads to trucking companies setting unrealistic deadlines for deliveries and intense pressures on truck drivers to meet these deadlines, which increases the desire to falsify logbooks.
But if they are caught with false logs, there are hefty fines for the violation.
The problem is the threat of prosecution for false logs does little to deter the issue because drivers and companies are often generating more money than the fines involved.
What are false log violations?
Simply, the FMCSA imposes numerous hours-of-service rules on drivers of commercial motor carriers that are reported on a digital (with an ELD device) or paper driver logbook (if exempt from ELD requirements).
Making a false logbook entry is a violation of 49 CFR 395.8(e)(1).
If a driver is running out of drive time, which is bound to happen with the current hours-of-service rules, they might be tempted to falsify or cheat their logbooks to make it seem like they are still abiding by the rules as they drive even longer.
It is also important to note that during a DOT audit, if carriers withhold any supporting documents, the violation is weighted the same as having a false log. This is a common area where non-compliant carriers think they can hide information that could prove hours of service violations, but inspectors know what to look for.
With all of that said, it is possible that a false logbook entry is the result of an innocent mistake.
How are drivers trying to falsify logs?
On paper logs, drivers have historically doctored their logbooks to make it seem like they follow hours-of-service rules. Maybe they played with the odometer reading or fluffed their numbers a bit (or a lot).
Some truckers even kept two paper logbooks: one spotless logbook “for the DOT” and the other “for the company” with identical runs, unrealistic time frames for trip completion, only recording on-duty and drive time, and team logs that do not match.
In an ELD world, it is a bit different, but there are still quite a few ways drivers try to cheat the system.
- Unassigned logs/Failing to login: Unassigned logs are the time when trucks physically move (faster than 15 mph) but there is no one logged in. The ELD tracks the drive time of the vehicle and wants you to assign it to someone the next time a driver logs in. Inspectors can assign these logs as “false logs” and the carrier fined up to $2,500 fine per false log.
- Ghost driver/team drivers: For companies using team drivers in a truck, or switch drivers frequently in trucks, drivers might accidently be logged into a previous driver account. Other times, a driver could create a “ghost” team driver and switch back and forth to fudge drive time hours.
- Personal conveyance mode: When in the personal conveyance mode, the ELD will not record it as driving time. Drivers pushing the edge of their drive time window will be tempted to use personal conveyance as a method to stay within their allotted hours and finish their day. Inspectors can assign these logs as “not using the appropriate method to record hours of service” (395.8A1).
- Unplugging the ELD device: Many ELD manufacturers will advertise their systems as “plug and play”. When unplugged, nothing is recorded. While most drivers don’t realize that reports are generated showing date, time, and location of the last recording, other drivers do know and run a load unplugged, go back to the office, then plug the device back in and do a normal run with the ELD. They gamble that inspectors will not realize the odometer gaps, not care about them, or use the “ELD is broken” excuse and show a paper log. An unplugged device is almost always an automatic out-of-service violation. Inspectors can assign these logs as “not using the appropriate method to record hours of service” (395.8A1).
- Malfunctioning or broken ELD: ELD rules state that if the device malfunctions, a driver must use paper logs and recreate the current and past 7 days of logs until the ELD is fixed. In a tight spot, drivers claim a broken ELD and then creatively write the past 7 days of logs on paper to give themselves more driving time. Inspectors can assign these logs as “failing to note malfunction that requires use of paper log” (395.34A1).
- False editing/False annotations: ELD functionality will automatically record driving time and driving time cannot be edited. Sleeper berth, on-duty and off-duty time is managed through driver interaction with the ELD. Editing time spent within these duty statuses by the driver is allowed. Drivers fail to realize that every ELD system must track every single edit. Auditors can see the edits made. False edits can lead to a false log determination.
Consequences of driver logbook violations
FMCSA considers any false manipulation of ELD data to be the carrier’s responsibility to catch and enforce consequences.
Carriers without the internal controls and/or concern to monitor and correct false ELD manipulations may find themselves in an expensive audit situation that can include fines, criminal penalties, and out of service orders.
The company may pass these fines to the driver or even terminate the driver, even if they pressured the driver to falsify the logs.
If a driver is involved in a fatal accident and was caught manipulating their driver logs, the driver could easily lose their CDL license, face hefty fines, and even face jail time.
Did you recently get Audited and receive a Conditional or Unsatisfactory Rating?
You have 60 days until you are placed OUT OF SERVICE when you receive an Unsatisfactory Safety Rating. You will need to remedy all the violations from your recent compliance review and show proof that you have corrected acute or critical violations.
Our DOT Safety Rating Specialists will be able to get you upgraded and back on the right track with the FMCSA and keep you there. How? By submitting a Safety Rating Upgrade request.
- First, we look at the compliance review to understand the violations and the documents required to submit for proof of change.
- Then we create a Corrective Action Plan filled with new systems and processes that will be implemented within your company to fix safety and compliance exposures within your operation.
- Documents and files are procured to submit along with the corrective action plan that will be audited and reviewed by a DOT Safety Rating Specialist.
- We will submit the Safety Rating Upgrade request and Corrective Action Plan to the state and service center with jurisdiction over carrier.
- Following the submission, your DOT Safety Rating Specialist will correspond with the FMCSA analyst on final determination and guidance on any additional information requested by analyst.