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EOBRs For Repeat Offenders

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Repeat Hours-of-Service violators will bear the brunt if the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's proposed rule for electronic on-board recorders comes into effect. Accordi...

BLACK BOX RULING: FMCSA Administrator, John Hill, outlines the administration's stance on EOBRs, one of which sits next to him.

BLACK BOX RULING: FMCSA Administrator, John Hill, outlines the administration's stance on EOBRs, one of which sits next to him.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Repeat Hours-of-Service violators will bear the brunt if the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s proposed rule for electronic on-board recorders comes into effect. According to the proposal, announced Jan. 11 during a closed briefing for media representatives and led by FMCSA Administrator John Hill, carriers with two “serious” Hours-of-Service review violations within a two-year period will be required to equip their fleet with EOBRs, also for a two-year period.

According to information provided by FMCSA, this would affect 930 carriers and 17,500 drivers based on today’s safety performance statistics.

“We make it top priority to focus on those companies who are most likely to be a safety hazard on the road,” Hill said during the briefing. “There are hundreds of thousands of trucks and buses on America’s roads today. We have to find other ways to get more of these units on more vehicles, without creating an unreasonable burden with a government mandate.”

When asked why EOBRs won’t be outfitted on all fleets, Hill said that the FMCSA must look at things through a cost/benefit analysis, taking into consideration the sheer size of the carrier population.

“We want to make sure that we can come up with the rule that really addresses the problem, and that is safety,” he said. “We think that by focusing on those people (with serious violations), we can drive the numbers down faster…rather that doing something industry-wide.”

Hill said EOBRs will continue to be voluntary for all other carriers, although the agency will introduce as yet unspecified incentives to encourage the use of EOBRs in trucks operating in the US.

The technical element of the proposed rule aims to standardize the technology for industry-wide use. The rule would require EOBRs to record basic information, including identity of the driver; duty status; date, time and location of the commercial vehicle; and distance travelled. It would also add a new requirement to use Global Positioning System (GPS) technology or other location-tracking systems to automatically identify the location of the vehicle, which “further reduces the likelihood of falsification of HoS information,” Hill said.

EOBRs installed in commercial vehicles manufactured on or after two years from the effective date of a final rule would have to meet these new technical requirements, but those that are voluntarily installed before that time would be allowed to continue for the life of the vehicle. The proposed rule, which will be subject to a 90-day public comment period, is expected to take effect between 18 and 24 months from now.

Media in attendance were shown one example of what the display of an EOBR device might look like.

“Currently, a driver has to provide a roadside officer with a printout or the officer must physically climb into the cab to read the screen,” Hill said. “Our proposed technical specifications would dramatically improve the ease and convenience of using these devices as a safety tool.”

First, there would be a standard display of specific data fields, meaning no matter where the truck is or which manufacturer’s device is being used, every read-out and display would be in an identical format. In addition, the technology must support the ability to be downloaded – either by hard wire or wireless transmission, Hill said. Uniformity will also help drivers and law enforcement know how to use these devices regardless of which manufacturer or model they are using, Hill continued.

“While this technology is at our disposal, we must always remember that it is just another tool to ensure safe driver behaviour,” Hill said. “Drivers must also follow the Hours-of-Service rules, which protect them and protect those with whom they share the road. Electronic on-board recorders will help ensure that these important rules are followed.”

The American Trucking Associations, the largest national trade association for the US trucking industry, is backing the FMCSA’s “sensible approach” to the proposed regulation.

“We are pleased that DoT has taken another solid step toward ensuring future gains in improved highway safety,” said ATA president and CEO, Bill Graves. “We support this incentive-based approach to the use of electronic on-board recorders. Technology can play a significant role in enhancing road safety and help to ensure the reliability of commercial vehicle operation.”

In response to a new policy adopted by its membership, ATA has pushed for a pilot program that would determine the effectiveness of EOBRs in improving compliance and safety performance, while also addressing the industry’s diverse nature. The ATA has said it also believes that incentives would assist motor carriers in adopting the technology.

However, not all US associations have taken kindly to the proposed regulation. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has said the federal government’s proposal is a “misdirected” attempt to deal with the root causes of Hours-of-Service violations.

“The FMCSA’s solution to Hours-of-Service enforcement goes long on Big Brother and short on the real issue,” OOIDA stated in a release. “FMCSA continues to ignore the inescapable fact that such devices are no more capable than paper logs in providing an accurate record of a driver’s compliance with the Hours-of-Service rules. As long as an EOBR records only the movement of a truck, and requires a driver to manually input his or her on-duty non driving time, it will fail to be what EOBR supporters wish them to be – a tamper-proof record of HoS compliance.”

OOIDA says the “real” HoS issue – and heavy contributor to driver fatigue – is the “30 to 40 or more hours” drivers spend at loading and unloading docks each week.

“Drivers who are almost always paid only for miles driven, have no ability to change this colossal waste of their time,” OOIDA stated in a release. “And, shippers, receivers and carriers have little or no incentive to address this waste since it costs them nothing – and it can even be a profit centre for some. Given the clearly demonstrated shortcomings of EOBRs, it is astounding that FMCSA would consider economic incentives to encourage motor carriers to buy this technology while providing zero incentive or support to professional drivers squeezed in the economic/regulatory vise.”

North of the border, the Canadian Trucking Alliance has said the FMCSA’s proposed ruling may have a relatively minor impact on Canadian carriers. However, Transport Canada and the provinces may well take their lead from the US in terms of an EOBR policy in this country.

In late 2004, CTA announced its position on EOBR use and called for mandatory onboard recorders on all trucks, with the choice of technology left to carriers. However, a key component of CTA’s position was that government policies on EOBRs must be fully harmonized between Canada and the US.

“It seems that FMCSA’s intention is to issue compliance orders based on HoS violations found during an audit – or compliance review as it is known in the US – rather than in roadside inspections,” the CTA pointed out in explaining why it felt the ruling would not have a large impact on Canadian carriers. “It comes as no surprise to CTA that the US government has elected not to mandate EOBRs on all trucks, although the Alliance hopes that the yet-to-be announced incentives for voluntary compliance will be the start of an industry trend away from paper logbooks.”

According to CTA CEO, David Bradley, “our concern with making EOBRs mandatory only for repeat violators is that it holds those carriers of any size, who are more likely to cross a scale or to have an audit to a higher standard than others.”

All the more reason he says why meaningful incentives will need to be provided to carriers by governments in both countries if a voluntary approach is to take hold.

“Clearly the continued use of paper logbooks to ensure adherence with the Hours-of-Service regulations in today’s high-tech trucks is n
ot supportable in the longer term. The sooner governments provide carriers that are already using EOBRs, or those who would be willing to adopt them, with meaningful incentives, the better will be compliance with hours of service rules and the more level the playing field will be for all,” he said.

– (For OBAC’s reaction to the ruling, see Joanne Ritchie’s column on pg. 58.)

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