In case you missed it, there’s a new sheriff in town in Washington, DC. Barack Obama was elected on the promise of change.
On a recent fact-finding trip to the US capital, CTA got a first-hand glimpse of how revolutionary that change will be for the transportation sector, and trucking in particular. With a Democratic majority in both the Senate and in the House of Representatives, the Obama administration should face few roadblocks in terms of getting its way. While it is early days yet, have no doubt that when it comes to tackling climate change, highway financing and safety regulation, these guys intend to make change.
Nowhere is this more apparent than with respect to Electronic On- Board Recorders (EOBRs). You will recall that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) tabled a notice of proposed rule-making on EOBRs in January 2007.For the most part, the rule was considered somewhat weak insofar as it would have required only a relatively small number of habitually bad actors to install EOBR technology.
It became increasingly clear over the past years that the FMCSA was coming under increasing pressure from groups like the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) to introduce a universal mandate. At a December 2008 EOBR conference in Minneapolis, FMCSA’s then chief administrator (a political appointee) said that the final rule would expand the scope of the NPRM and that it would likely be a precursor to a universal mandate. In January 2009, with the installation of the Obama administration, the FMCSA withdrew its rule for further review.
During our recent Washington foray, we were fortunate to obtain meetings with some high-ranking Democratic officials who will be responsible for setting the direction for the new FMCSA administrator. To be honest, we did not expect to learn much, given the secrecy that surrounds the US rulemaking process. We expected more political chat than anything else. But, what we got -and in the strongest, bluntest way possible -was the clear message that the new administration fully intends to introduce a universal EOBR mandate.
We were told that the previous NPRM was a “sham” and the level of non-compliance with the hours-of- service regulations (which they characterized as a downside of deregulation) that has been tolerated for so long is “outrageous.”
We were told that government will never have enough enforcement people to police things and will have to use technology and that an EOBR mandate is the only meaningful way to enforce the hours-of-service rules. This will take some time, but once the Democrats have a new FMCSA administrator in place, they will get to work. And, since the Democrats have a majority in the selection process for the new administrator, they will install someone who will make this happen.
For some time now, it has been CTA’s view that a universal EOBR mandate was inevitable and rather than fighting change by opposing EOBRs, we believe our efforts would be more productively spent trying to make an EOBR mandate for North America work.
We also believe that it would be a useful measure to level the compliance playing field and that the current paper-based system is archaic and outdated. CTA first called upon the Canadian federal and provincial governments to work with us to develop an EOBR mandate in 2004. After two years wherein virtually no progress was made, Transport Canada engaged a consultant to prepare a discussion paper (issued in August 2006) to assist governments in deciding how to handle this issue. That paper concluded there were no insurmountable challenges to introducing an EOBR mandate in Canada. It said: An array of EOBR technology was readily available, evolving rapidly and becoming less costly; a relatively high percentage of drivers do tend to falsify their logs; EOBRs can contribute to road safety improvements; an effective EOBR program would improve compliance with the hours-of-service regulations and represent an improvement over a paper log system; privacy concerns are a non-issue; and, EOBRs will help level the playing field.
No one, least of all CTA, discounts the amount of consultation and work that would be required to establish a national EOBR mandate in Canada, but rather than commence work, the Canadian governments, wrongly in our view, decided to put off having to deal with this matter – despite all of the arguments in favour of an EOBR mandate -by waiting to see what the Americans were going to do.
It was suggested that Canada should wait six months to see how things evolved in the US. CTA agrees entirely that we should seek consistent and compatible regulation between Canada and the US wherever possible. However, we disagreed then and continue to disagree with the notion that the best approach for Canada is to wait and simply follow whatever it is the Americans are doing.
Regardless, almost three years have passed since the decision to wait. In light of what we learned in Washington, the issue should not be if there will be a mandate in Canada, but when and how. The key is a smooth, orderly transition and implementation that allows industry and government the time to adjust and puts in place mechanisms and policies to deal effectively with legitimate concerns over costs, enforcement policy, etc.
We do not underestimate the significant challenges this presents to industry and to government. But pushing the work and the tough decisions off to another day or letting another country decide what is best for Canada is not an acceptable response. We believe that an EOBR policy in Canada should be a standard under the National Safety Code and should be regulated by the Government of Canada in order to achieve national harmonization, at the same time as we pursue North American harmonization. •
-David Bradley Is President Of The OTA And CEO Of The CTA.
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