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On The Record

If the mandatory use of electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) is a contentious issue, you wouldn't know it following a panel discussion on the topic at this year's Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) c...

If the mandatory use of electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) is a contentious issue, you wouldn’t know it following a panel discussion on the topic at this year’s Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) convention.

The CTA has deemed paper logs “antiquated and ineffective” and feels they “give a sophisticated industry a tarnished image,” explained OTA vice-president Geoff Wood. “It’s time to move on and show who we really are.”

Regardless of where the CTA stands on the issue, it seems it’s only a matter of time before the US issues an EOBR mandate. A proposed rule that would make them mandatory for carriers with frequent Hours-of-Service violations is already in the works, and David Kraft, chair of the American Trucking Associations’ Technology and Maintenance Council EOBR Task Force, speculated that a full-blown EOBR mandate will be ushered in as part of a federal highway reauthorization bill by 2012 with enforcement beginning as early as 2015.

Here at home, work is also taking place to shape an EOBR regulation.

Peter Hurst, chairman of the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators’ EOBR Working Group, said a project is underway that will put forth recommendations to the Council of Deputy Ministers by fall 2010. Hurst said the project will involve extensive stakeholder consultations throughout this year and will ideally create a North America-wide standard.

Canadian regulators are also in the process of educating enforcement officers (including police) on how to read and interpret electronic logs. Hurst noted that commercial vehicle inspections in Ontario are down from as many as 140,000 per year in recent years to roughly 100,000.

“We’re hopeful we will see a culture shift to modern types of enforcement; that’s more about education and compliance and about industry policing itself rather than us doing it,” Hurst said. “EOBRs fit along those lines very nicely and…work great in terms of reducing the amount of actual enforcement that has to be done.”

While talk of a mandate normally gets carriers’ backs up, panelists insisted there are many benefits of EOBRs that will make the up-front costs manageable, and the CTA is hoping the government will provide incentives for carriers that use them voluntarily. One of those benefits is improved compliance, which is especially important in advance of CSA 2010, Kraft pointed out.

“If you’re a carrier that’s already doing a pretty good job with compliance, it will improve. If you are compliance-challenged, it will be dramatic,” he said. Kraft said fleets that use EOBRs to track Hours-of-Service realize other benefits as well, and surprisingly increased driving time is among them “Most of the time, it’s because drivers manage their time so much better,” he explained. “The DoT clock is staring at them, so they have constant awareness of how much time they have left.”

When making the transition to electronic logs, Kraft admitted there will be a learning curve for some drivers.

“Drivers will continue to make mistakes for the first three to six months, but eventually, in a six-to 12-month window, you’ll be operating smoothly,” he predicted. And by then, he said, initial resistance from drivers will have waned as they too see the benefits of e-logs.

“If you don’t have EOBRs, drivers will say, ‘If you put those things in, I quit,'” he admitted. “But every carrier that puts in EOBRs finds out that after the drivers get comfortable with them, they will say, ‘If you take those things away, I quit.'”

That’s precisely the experience MacKinnon Transport had when it converted its entire 240-truck fleet to EOBRs in the past year, said company president Evan MacKinnon. The carrier’s “a-ha” moment came when it was audited and seven of eight drivers were charged with HoS falsifications because their paper logs didn’t match the company’s GPS records. MacKinnon said the drivers never exceeded their allowable driving time, but their own records simply didn’t mesh with the GPS data.

“We made the decision at that time to match the logs to the satellite system,” MacKinnon recalled. Initially, there was resistance, but only five of 240 drivers (including four owner/operators) quit. However, four of the five later asked to return, MacKinnon pointed out, adding those drivers are now “our greatest salesmen for this.”

In addition to completely eliminating HoS falsifications, MacKinnon has reaped other benefits as well. The company takes advantages of the EOBR’s payroll and communication capabilities and “it brings value to us in more ways than just Hours-of-Service.”

A sticker on the doors of MacKinnon Transport trucks proudly states ”This vehicle is equipped with electronic logs” and as a result, the company’s trucks are often waved through the scales, further improving productivity.

When implementing the electronic tracking of driver logs, MacKinnon said it’s important to communicate the decision to the entire company and explain the reasoning.

“Step, don’t leap into it,” he suggested. “We communicated it through our whole building; every department was informed why we were going ahead with it.”

Finally, MacKinnon suggested other fleets get on board with EOBRs soon or risk being identified as potential cheaters.

“I believe there are going to be many carriers in the next 12 months that go ahead with this technology -it’s cost-saving, it works well and drivers and staff accepted it much better than we thought they would,” MacKinnon said. “If you’re not running them, there’s only one reason and it’s not a very good reason and you’re really going to stand out.”

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