For an association that takes pride in fighting for the rights of truckers, I find it hard to understand why the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) remains vehemently opposed to electronic onboard recorders.
As you know, US legislators are considering a provision that would require all longhaul trucks to be equipped with electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs) for real time monitoring of drivers’ compliance with hours of service rules. This side of the border, the Canadian Trucking Alliance has been coordinating an effort among carriers and professional drivers to voice support for the mandatory implementation of EOBRs.
Both the American Trucking Associations and the Canadian Trucking Alliance say their members, many of whom have gone ahead and started using EOBRs in their fleets ahead of any government mandate, have found that it improves compliance, safety and operating efficiency.
But OOIDA refuses to be convinced and its attacks are becoming increasingly vitriolic.
First is OOIDA’s cost argument. EOBRs are “exorbitantly expensive”, according to OOIDA, which claims EOBRs will cost between $1,000 and $1,500 to purchase – a pretty steep increase from the paper logbooks currently available at truck stops or from carriers for little or no charge. And based on that cost, OOIDA goes on to claim the costs will hurt owner/operators and small fleet owners.
The Canadian Trucking Alliance counters that EOBRs can be purchased as a standalone device in the $300-$500 range (hours of service recording only) or up to $700-$800 for units with additional options such as routing, dispatch, communication and fleet management capabilities. That’s a pretty wide range in pricing so obviously one side is manipulating numbers to strengthen their argument.
Who should you believe? Well, having reported on this industry for more than 20 years, I can tell you one thing: Margins are so tight in this industry that carriers are pretty quick to complain about anything they consider a needless expense. So why have so many proven willing to invest in EOBRs before the devices are mandated? Could it be they deemed them to be a worthwhile investment that could help them save money?
And if you really don’t trust anything a carrier association says, do a little digging on your own. You will find that the VDO RoadLog, introduced at Mid-America, retails for $499 and has no monthly subscription fee. So it has a one-time cost of $499 and it does everything you need it to do to comply with the proposed rule. Paper logbooks at $3/month cost about $36/year so if this thing lasts you 10 years, you’re out $130 over 10 years. .Why does OOIDA assume the highest priced onboard communications system and ignore the low-cost, no monthly fee opions such as the VDO Roadlog. Does the association care more about trying to score political points than properly informing its members?
The CTA reports that carriers which have voluntarily implemented EOBRs have reported as much as a 75% reduction in hours of service violations. With hours of service penalties costing up to $400 per violation, this alone would create a considerable business cost savings. Why would OOIDA deny its own members such an opportunity? Owner/operators and small fleets have been hammered worse than anyone during the recession and the slow recovery; they’re the ones who can least afford hours of service penalties. The driver surveys conducted for the Best Fleets to Drive For award indicate that most drivers who have e-logs actually like them and consider them an advantage. So why does OOIDA want its members to continue to waste their time slaving over paper logs? Again, I ask, does OOIDA care more about scoring political points than properly educating its members so they can make an intelligent decision on the issue?
There is also the issue of monthly fees for some of the more comprehensive systems, which could be $25-$30 a month. But in most cases it will be the trucking company, not the driver/independent operator, who will pay the monthly fee because these systems can be used for more than just HOS compliance, which OOIDA fails to mention. They use the same system for GPS tracking, in-cab communications, etc. So why does OOIDA raise cost as an issue when the people actually footing the bill don’t see it as one?
OOIDA’s next argument is that EOBRs are actually a way for large companies to squeeze more productivity out of drivers and increase costs for the small trucking companies they compete with. It is true that Canada’s largest carriers do want to consolidate the industry but if EOBRs are helping them squeeze more productivity out of their drivers as OOIDA accuses, why would they want to give up such a competitive advantage to their smaller competitors by making EOBRs mandatory for all?
Could it be that the reverse of what OOIDA is claiming is actually closer to the truth? Could it be that the current antiquated system, where it’s all too easy to fudge the paper log or keep multiple logs, hurts drivers by allowing shady operators to compete on an uneven playing field? Would an electronic record that can’t be easily fudged not be a better way to ensure drivers are able to stay within what is considered legally acceptable driving hours? Why would OOIDA want to deny that to its members?
Owner/operators tend to be wary of change. I recall many opposing satellite communications when that technology emerged 20 years ago; yet they wouldn’t want to be without it today. It’s easy for an association to simply feed the fears of its members. It takes leadership to embrace change and make the effort to guide its members through it.
With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics. All posts by Lou Smyrlis