In a recent episode of our Trucksafe LIVE! podcast, we tackled the issue of commercial driver log falsification. What exactly are false logs?
Log falsification is a misrepresentation of a commercial driver's duty status or driving time on their daily record of duty status. False logs can be deliberate or unintentional. Attempts to conceal substantive hours-of-service violations by mis-logging time are frequent contributors to log falsifications. Misuse of personal conveyance status, mischaracterizations of on-duty time, and unassigned driving time are also common culprits.
Log falsification has been and continues to be a serious problem with serious consequences. Not only can false logs lead to regulatory enforcement in the form of out-of-service orders, fines, and downgraded safety rating, but more importantly, they can conceal hours-of-service violations that can lead to driver fatigue and catastrophic accidents.
So what we do about it? That's the million dollar question we're tackling in this article.
Prevalence of Log Falsification
Log falsification is a widespread problem in the trucking industry. According to FMCSA enforcement data, log falsification has been the fourth most common driver-related violation discovered in roadside inspections from 2019 to 2023. Those types of violations alone account for nearly 5% of all violations discovered in those inspections over that time frame.
Top Roadside Inspection Violations (2019-2023). Source: FMCSA A&I
Taking it a step further, FMCSA data indicates that log falsifications are the second most common violations discovered in compliance reviews (aka DOT audits). From 2019 to 2023, FMCSA investigators discovered nearly 21,000 false log violations during their investigations, which accounted for nearly 6% of all violations discovered.
Top Violations from DOT Audits (2019-2023). Source: FMCSA A&I
Causes of Log Falsification
There are a number of ways that drivers and carriers falsify logs. Many expected electronic logging devices (ELDs) to help cure this problem, but the data does not bear that out. Some of the most common culprits for log falsification are:
Misuse of Personal Conveyance. Far and away, the most common way that drivers falsify logs nowadays is by misusing so-called personal conveyance status. As we discuss in another article, personal conveyance refers to a scenario where a regulated driver operates a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) for personal use (i.e., not at the direction of a motor carrier) in off-duty status, meaning that time is not counted against their available hours. As you might imagine, the idea of logging driving time as off-duty is fraught with the potential for misuse in order to conceal hours-of-service violations, and enforcement data proves that to be true. For example, if a driver has reached his 11-hour driving limit but is still 30 miles from the destination, there's certainly a temptation to flip over to off-duty personal conveyance status to complete the move. In yet another article, we address the top 5 personal conveyance mistakes made by drivers and carriers.
Mis-Logging On-Duty Time. Another common way drivers falsify logs, sometimes deliberately and others times inadvertently, is to mis-log time that should be logged as either driving or on-duty (not driving). An example would be a situation where a driver logs his fueling time as off-duty rather than on-duty (not driving) as it's supposed to be. Again, sometimes this is done to gain the driver more time, but other times it's a simple misunderstanding as to what constitutes on-duty (not driving) time.
Not Logging Time (Unassigned Driving). Log falsification can also occur when a driver simply fails to log segments of time. For drivers using paper logs, this really just involves omitting certain segments of working or driving time from the daily log. For drivers using ELDs, this could happen if the driver either unplugs the device from their vehicle or fails to login to their ELD account.
Ghost Drivers. Yet another way drivers and some carriers have found to conceal hours-of-service violations with ELDs is by using so-called "ghost drivers," meaning using a dummy ELD account or a different driver's account to log time that should be associated with the actual driver of the vehicle.
In our experience, these are the most common log falsification culprits, but there are certainly others. But why exactly are drivers and some carriers engaging in this conduct to begin with? Well, there are several motivations:
Pressure from employers. Some trucking companies pressure their drivers to falsify their logs in order to meet delivery deadlines or to reduce costs. This pressure can be direct or indirect, such as through unrealistic expectations or threats of termination.
Financial incentives. Some drivers falsify their logs to earn more money. For example, many carriers pay drivers by the mile, which can incentivize drivers to drive longer hours than they are legally allowed.
Lack of understanding of HOS regulations. Some drivers may not fully understand HOS regulations, which can lead them to unintentionally falsify their logs.
Fear of being placed out of service. Some drivers falsify their logs to conceal HOS violations, believing it could keep them from being placed out of service if stopped for an inspection.
Impact of Log Falsification
Log falsifications have a significant impact on drivers and carriers alike. The entire point of the HOS regulations is to keep fatigued drivers off the roadways and prevent fatigue-related accidents, so the falsification of logs is an end runaround the substantive HOS rules. For this reason, the FMCSA and its state partners take log falsifications very seriously. In fact, false logs routinely lead to:
Out-of-Service Orders. If a commercial driver is stopped for a roadside inspection and the officer discovers a log falsification, the officer can declare that driver out-of-service, meaning the driver would be prohibited from operating until he obtains a full 10-hour rest break to reset his 11-hour and/or 14-hour time limits. As noted earlier, log falsifications are one of the top violations discovered during roadside inspections and regularly lead to out-of-service orders.
Increased CSA Scores. Log falsifications discovered during roadside inspections get placed on the operating motor carrier's HOS CSA score. These types of violations are heavily weighted and significantly impact those scores. Carriers with several log falsifications often have elevated HOS CSA scores that routinely lead to DOT compliance reviews.
Failed DOT Audits. In the context of DOT audits, log falsifications are considered "critical" violations. HOS violations, more broadly, are the only types of violations that are double-weighted in these types of audits, meaning they have twice the impact on a carrier's safety rating as any other violation. For this reason, log falsifications regularly lead to downgraded safety ratings. Indeed, it's impossible to escape a DOT audit in which a critical-level of log falsifications is discovered with anything better than a Conditional safety rating. In another article, we break down the FMCSA's safety rating methodology.
Civil Penalties. False logs can also lead to significant civil penalties. This is especially true if a critical level of those violations is discovered in a DOT investigation. By regulation, the FMCSA is authorized to impose fines of up to $13,885 per falsification!
Heightened Highway Accident Exposure. Putting aside regulatory enforcement, log falsification also creates significant exposure in highway accident litigation. According to a 2020 report by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI), HOS violations (including log falsifications) top the list of issues contributing to so-called "nuclear verdicts" against trucking companies.
ATRI Data on Nuclear Verdicts
How to Control Log Falsifications
Getting a handle on log falsification if it's a problem for you is critical, but how exactly do you do it? Well, in our experience, the fleets that have this problem best under control tend to do the following as a matter of course:
Understanding and watching key metrics & reports. "You can't improve what you don't measure" is an age-old saying that rings particularly true in this context. In order to wrap your arms around a log falsification problem, you first need to realize that it's a problem and what is causing it. For regulated fleets, there are a few ways to accomplish this. First and foremost, you need to be periodically watching your various safety metrics (e.g., SMS data). In another article, we discuss the top 5 safety metrics we believe all fleets should be keeping tabs on. This data is helpful in recognizing trends in compliance, including log falsifications. You can drill down and see what drivers are struggling the most with the issue during roadside inspections. Further, for fleets with ELDs, you should be running and reviewing periodic reports to help weed out false logs. Chief among these are your personal conveyance, unassigned driving, and odometer jump reports.
Implementing and enforcing policies. Once you understand your problem areas, it's time to get control of them. When it comes to log falsifications, in particular, it's important that you clearly articulate your expectations to drivers, which is usually best accomplished through a written policy. It should be made perfectly clear that you will not tolerate log falsifications and that drivers who violate this policy will be subject to some kind of progressive discipline. At the same time, it's critical that company executives and managers live out these expectations, as well. Telling drivers they can't falsify their logs and they imposing unrealistic delivery schedules and expectations is a recipe for disaster.
Holding drivers accountable. To really get control of a log falsification problem, it's important you hold drivers accountable for their violations. In other words, there must be real consequences for the violations. Otherwise, there's no incentive for the drivers to change their behavior. This is where a robust progressive discipline policy comes into play. Often, it involves a progression through verbal warnings, written warnings, suspension, and ultimately termination. But again, there must be real teeth to this policy, or else things will never change. And consistency is key here.
Providing necessary training. Sometimes log falsifications are inadvertent, stemming from a driver's simple misunderstanding of proper logging procedures. In those cases, it behooves you to provide your drivers additional training to help them better understand their regulatory obligations and help prevent future violations of the same variety.
Log falsification is one of the most pressing compliance-related concerns in the industry. Getting control of it seems daunting but is possible if you are diligent at it. If you help addressing the issue at your fleet, don't hesitate to reach out!
About Trucksafe Consulting, LLC: Trucksafe Consulting is a full-service DOT regulatory compliance consulting and training service. We help carriers develop, implement, and improve their safety programs, through personalized services, industry-leading training, and a library of educational content. Trucksafe also hosts a monthly live show on its various social media channels called Trucksafe LIVE! to discuss hot-button issues impacting highway transportation. Trucksafe is owned and operated by Brandon Wiseman and Jerad Childress, transportation attorneys who have assisted some of the nation’s leading fleets to develop and maintain cutting-edge safety programs. You can learn more about Trucksafe online at www.trucksafe.com and by following Trucksafe on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.