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Crash Data Recorders on the Horizon for Trucking Industry

SAN ANTONIO, Tex. - Crash Data Recorders (CDRs) are mandatory for air, rail and marine transport, but not for highway carriers. That is likely to change in the near future, predicts Joe Osterman, dire...


SAN ANTONIO, Tex. – Crash Data Recorders (CDRs) are mandatory for air, rail and marine transport, but not for highway carriers. That is likely to change in the near future, predicts Joe Osterman, director of highway safety with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

Osterman and Dr. Vern Ellingstad, director of research and engineering with the NTSB, were at the American Trucking Associations’ management conference in San Antonio in October, to discuss some of the issues that need to be resolved before CDRs are implemented in the trucking industry.

“We don’t have any rules for highway (use of CDRs) but they’re coming,” warned Osterman.

“It’s going to come and how it evolves can be affected by you because it’s still in its infancy.”

Osterman said it’s imperative the trucking industry get involved now to help ensure the use of on-board CDRs is phased into the industry in an effective manner.

He fears if the trucking industry doesn’t offer input and help establish standards for their use, then civil litigators will ultimately determine such things as who the data belongs to and how it can be used.

“It’s a snowball that’s going to start coming downhill soon and without standards I think that’s going to be a problem for this industry,” said Osterman. He suggested the industry begin working with the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) to develop some ground rules concerning the use of CDRs in commercial vehicles.

Otherwise, he said “The federal government will probably regulate it and it may not necessarily be what the industry wants to see. Or, the judicial legal system could take over.”

Some of the key issues that need to be resolved before mandating CDRs are: How will the data be protected from misuse? Who owns the data? Who can access and use that data and for what purposes? What is the chain of custody of the data? Also, should carriage be mandatory across the board for commercial vehicles?

“Hiding one’s head in the sand is probably not a real good strategy,” said Ellingstad. “Participation (in determining the rules for CDR usage) is very important.”

One of the driving forces behind mandating CDRs in commercial vehicles is the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which has petitioned for their use in recent years.

“Three to four years ago, people didn’t realize you could extract data from on-board recorders, but that has changed,” said Osterman. He said some police officers are already receiving training to learn how to extract data from on-board devices and as the technology becomes easier to operate, there will be increasing pressure to implement them.

Also, they do serve a valuable purpose, he explained.

He cited an example of a motor coach accident that occurred in Canon City, Col., in which several students were killed.

The events surrounding the accident were difficult to determine, since it was an experienced driver who was running a highway he was very familiar with.

By extracting data from the vehicle’s on-board electronics, investigators were able to piece together what happened.

“We were able to map out the vehicle’s speed, RPM, braking and transmission (activities),” said Osterman. “We knew what the vehicle speed was and what the brake application was at different times. We were able to tell exactly what happened on the highway.”

The CDR data indicated the driver was going too fast and that he was unfamiliar with the equipment he was operating. He had tried to apply the throttle to disengage the transmission retarder, which also contributed to the accident. Understanding the details of such accidents is imperative in finding ways to reduce the seven million highway accidents that occur each year in the U.S.

So, just when will the industry be required to have CDRs aboard all commercial vehicles?

“If it’s coming from the federal government, I wouldn’t hold your breath because they don’t move too fast,” admitted Osterman. However, he said the process may move much quicker if civil litigants hijack the process or if the industry puts a push on for the use of CDRs in the hopes of maintaining more control over their use.

Since many trucks already carry on-board Electronic Control Modules (ECMs), for maintenance purposes, the trucking industry could have a bit of a running start.

“Much of the electronic recording that is done today is for maintenance purposes,” said Osterman. “Unlike the other modes where recorders were developed first and were used for maintenance purposes afterwards, this is the exact opposite.”


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