Last month, notice was given by the FMCSA in the Federal Register as to the changes to the definition of a “HIGH RISK” motor carrier. The FMCSA wants to go from the current three tiered safety rating of “Satisfactory/Conditional/Unsatisfactory” down to a two tiered one of “Fit/Unfit” – that’s it! Would you believe that a false log was #10 in the list of top 20 driver violations in 2015, with some 31,575 violations reported. As a motor carrier or a sole proprietor, you’re still liable for false logs filled out by you or your drivers. You should have the means to detect the violations, or it will cost you. You still have to do all of this for the next two years, until it becomes mandatory to have an Electronic Logging Device (ELD) installed in your truck.
What is the best way to identify a false log? By comparing the log with related documents to verify whether the entries are indeed true and correct. In fact, Section 395.8(k) of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations requires that you retain all “supporting” documents for at least six months. FMCSA has found that drivers may falsify their paper logs for a number of reasons, including needing to make an on-time delivery and not enough time was allotted; needing to make up for some lost time (such as a loading delay or staying too long at a truck stop); anxious to get home; wanting to maximize mileage (especially if paid by the mile); getting behind on paperwork; and many more reasons, or excuses, depending on how you look at it.
Checking your logs for any violations, whether they may be hours-of-service limits and/or form-and-manner types of violations, is critical. But the process should not stop there. Looking for log errors, as tedious as it can be, must be an integral step of your log auditing. A DOT interpretation provides a long list of possible supporting documents, which might include fuel receipts/billing statements; toll receipts/billing statements; loading and unloading check calls; pickup and delivery receipts/bills of lading; dispatch records/call in logs; payroll records; scale clearance device records; expense receipts (permits, scales, lumpers, lights, etc.); repair receipts; customs paperwork; roadside inspection reports and crash reports; and electronic communications/tracking records. Verifying entries on the log against paperwork such as the items listed above is the only way to find these errors.
Verifying log entries can be time-consuming, but it is fairly easy to do. To begin, locate the date and time on the supporting document. Next, take your log for the day and check the location at the time provided on the supporting document. Do they correlate? At times, this may require some interpretation. For example, take a toll receipt. Toll receipts do not have any on-duty time associated with them. Therefore, you will need to look back at the time the driver started driving and review both the time and distance from the starting time to the toll location. Here is an example: after completing a 10-hour break, a driver’s log shows “driving” starting at 8:00 a.m. at Metropolis, Illinois. A toll billing statement or receipt, which is a supporting document, shows the driver paying a toll at Rockford, Illinois at 11:00 a.m. The driver’s log shows that he arrived in Wausau, Wisconsin (with no breaks) for a delivery appointment at 4:00 p.m. The distance from Metropolis, Illinois to Rockford, Illinois is 413 miles. Depending on the normal operating speed of the fleet, the traffic encountered, and the speed limits for the roads involved, the amount of driving time should be somewhere between 7 and 8.25 hours of driving.
When these data points are connected, it is obvious that the log is false. The driver would have had to have started driving well before 8:00 a.m. to be in Rockford at 11:00 a.m. A more likely starting time for the day was between 2:30 and 4:00 a.m. A likely scenario is that the driver cut his 10-hour break short to be able to make it to Wausau on time.
Another way to identify falsification is by checking the “point-to-point” mileages on the driver’s log. In the example above, the mileage guide places the mileage from Metropolis to Wausau at 615 miles. This converts to 10.25 to 12.5 hours of driving, depending on speed and conditions. In our example, the driver showed 8 hours of driving, which provides even further verification that the log is false, as he could not have traveled that distance in that short amount of time.
Using supporting documents that can be tied to on-duty time, such as pickup and delivery receipts, bills of lading, fuel receipts, customs clearance paperwork, and roadside inspection and crash reports, is an easier process. With these supporting documents, it is simply a matter of checking that the on-duty time, or the “flag” indicating a short change in duty status, is at the appropriate time (be sure to account for any time zone changes). In some situations, you may need to allow a little leeway when matching supporting documents to logs. This may be the case when the time on the supporting document cannot be validated.
Since the verification process is time-consuming, it may not be possible to check all of your drivers’ logs for false entries. In that case, you might select logs to review based on criteria such as the following: drivers involved in a crash; drivers placed out of service for hours-of-service violations (or for any reason) or drivers with a history of hours-of-service violations; the “top performing” drivers from the previous month (figure out how they are doing so much better than everyone else); new drivers; drivers never audited before; or just choose randomly.
If you are using a log auditing program or system, make sure you know exactly what the system is checking. You may want to add manual steps to make sure you are doing a thorough job of identifying log falsification problems. But, by following the steps outlined above, you should have higher-than-average odds of keeping this pesky and expensive violation off of your company’s and driver’s inspection and audit records.
Of course, the simplest way to avoid all of this is to go to the NTA website (www.ntassoc.com) and find the “Benefits and Services” section. From there, navigate to the “Electronic Logging Devices & Hours of Service” page, where you will find detailed information about our FMCSA compliant fleet management system. With this system, you should never have to audit a logbook ever again. If you have any questions, call me at (562) 279-0557. Until next month, “Drive Safe – Drive Smart!”