The Ultimate Guide to US Vehicle Tracking Laws

vehicle tracking laws

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Are fleet management and vehicle tracking systems legal in the US?

The simple answer is yes, but only under certain circumstances.

Vehicle tracking laws changed in a big way in December 2017, thanks to the introduction of new legal requirements for drivers and motor carriers in every industry. And with another major change to the industry in December 2019, ELD compliance, we’ve compiled our expertise on how you and your business should navigate this evolving regulatory landscape.

US vehicle tracking law

What is an Electronic Logging Device?

An electronic logging device (ELD) is an electronic version of the paper logbook that commercial drivers traditionally use to log their Record of Duty Status (RODS).

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) offers the following definition:

“[A device that] synchronizes with a vehicle engine to automatically record driving time, for easier, more accurate hours of service (HOS) recording.”


An automatic on-board recording device (AOBRD) is a more basic version of the modern ELD. It performs the same function as an ELD, recording a driver’s duty status information.

As of 18 December 2017, only ELDs meet the legal requirements for vehicle tracking. This was the deadline by which CMVs (commercial motor vehicles) that didn’t already have AOBRDs were required to be fitted with ELDs.

However, businesses that were already using AOBRDs on this date have been given longer to upgrade these devices to ELDs. The final compliance deadline for switching from an AOBRD to an ELD was December 16 2019.

Did You Know?

The ELD Mandate came into full effect on December 16, 2019 – but if you’re still not compliant, we can help you get there fast by matching you up with fleet management and tracking suppliers that provide excellent ELD systems. Simply tell us what you need, and we’ll find the right options for you. You’ll quickly receive tailored quotes to compare – it’s super easy, and totally free!

How do electronic logging devices work?

An ELD connects to the engine control module (ECM) that controls the engine in a driver’s vehicle. The ECM feeds raw data to the ELD about the vehicle’s motion, how the engine runs, miles driven and engine hours.

This data enables the ELD to construct a reliable picture of a driver’s work day. If you manage a vehicle fleet, an ELD-compliant fleet management system can reveal valuable insights about the performance of your fleet.

What is the 2017 ELD Rule?

As of December 18 2017 (The ELD Compliance Date), federal law requires all commercial drivers who keep a record of their driving hours to have an ELD installed in their vehicle(s). This obligation is referred to as the ELD rule – or ELD mandate.

December 18 2017 was the date by which fleets that weren’t already using AOBRDs – and so were using paper logbooks rather than more accurate digital recorders to keep track of their drivers’ HOS and duty statuses – had to install ELDs in their vehicles.

Who is the December 2019 ELD compliance deadline for?

December 16 2019 was the final ELD compliance deadline. It applies to those fleets that, on the original deadline of December 18 2017, were already using the AOBRD class of recording device, and so didn’t need ELDs quite so urgently. Now, these fleet managers/commercial drivers must replace all of their AOBRDs with modern ELDs as of December 16 2019.

How do I know if I am affected by the ELD Rule?

The US Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) covers which drivers are affected by the ELD Rule.

If you drive a vehicle for any commercial purpose, the ELD rule probably affects you. Those who will be subject to the rule include:

  • Drivers who log Hours of Service (HOS)
  • Drivers who keep Records of Duty Status (RODS)
  • Fleets with commercial vehicles that weigh more than 10,000 lbs

To find out whether or not you need to get ELDs, check out our detailed but simple guide to the six exemptions to the ELD Mandate, and who they apply to.

Penalties for non-compliance

Fines of several thousands of dollars and vehicle shutdown orders are among the possible FMCSA sanctions for non-compliance with the ELD mandate.

You can comply to the ELD compliance mantade by installing a full fleet management solution that includes ELDs and the necessary software apps for recording HOS and duty status.

ELD Mandate Compliance through Fleet Management Solutions

For commercial transportation services providers, an ELD-enabled fleet management system is the best possible solution to comply with the ELD rule and other Federal, State and industry obligations.

Fleet management technology enables real time GPS tracking of driver hours. Input needed from the driver is minimal as the system will automatically record the number of hours driven, correctly timing and stamping the vehicle’s location with every change in the driver’s status. The data is available to monitor via the in-cab terminal or remotely. Each time the driver’s status changes, the data is automatically transmitted to a central server. The GPS system will record all data throughout the journey, ensuring that compliance obligations are met, logged and fully documented.

Benefits of Fleet Management Solutions

Adopting ELD-compliant fleet management technology provides a raft of benefits to drivers, haulers and motor carriers. Vehicle tracking devices can:

  • Save driver time by reducing paperwork, giving them more time to complete revenue generating jobs
  • Give a central dispatcher real-time information on the status and location of a driver, allowing them to plan routes in light of hours of service requirements
  • Eliminate the need for a paper log – ELDs are more accurate, automated, and can easily amend and update data
  • Help fleet managers to minimize driver violations and avoid DOT fines
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Other Fleet Management Law Compliance Obligations

Compliance with the US Department of Transportation (US DOT) legislation CSA 2010 is required of any interstate carrier of goods who has a US DOT registration number.

Fleet managers have a legal requirement that all of their drivers must be able to provide:

  • State supplied crash reports.
  • A list of any violations which may have been detected during roadside inspections.
  • Reports of any violations which have been identified by State or Federal investigators.

State Legislation for Employee Rights

North Carolina is one of the US states to have implemented a law (NCGS 95-28.2) prohibiting any employer discrimination based on “lawful use of lawful products during non-working hours”. California Penal Code 637.7 also states that “it is a misdemeanor to track any person’s location with an electronic device without that person’s consent.” The state of Connecticut is another to have enacted a statute specifically highlighting the issue by making it illegal “to monitor employees electronically without providing them with prior notice.”

All of this state legislation makes the same clear point: employees must be made aware of the fact that they will be monitored while at work and that their employer will find the right balance to ensure that vehicle tracking solutions will only be implemented for appropriate business related purposes. What’s more, the dangers of poor management and overzealous use of data can negatively impact the morale of the workforce as a whole.

What is the punishment for Illegal use of a Tracking System?

Again this differs from state to state, but in Texas the crime is classed as a Class A misdemeanor which could land you in jail for one year. In California a person can be jailed for up to six months and fined whereas businesses can also have their professional licenses taken away from them.


If you work as a commercial driver, or manage commercial drivers (or even just staff members who drive company cars), it’s especially important to know about developments in vehicle tracking law – and the strict penalties for noncompliance.

The ELD mandate represents a significant step forwards for driver safety standards. It also creates an ideal opportunity for motor carrier companies to modernize operations by investing in smart fleet management solutions.

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* Please note: Expert Market does not provide legal advice. To make sure your solution is legal please consult a lawyer near you.

Written by:
Julia Watts author headshot photo
Specialising in business software, Julia writes jargon-busting guides about VoIP, fleet management, dash cams, fuel cards, and more. Having spent almost a decade writing for entrepreneurs and reviewing business solutions, she loves helping exciting ventures – big or small – to flourish.