Private Links: Back to the drawing board

by Bruce Richards

Of the many challenges that the trucking industry has faced since it began tracking hours of work for drivers, the reliability of the information presented in logbooks may be uppermost. Stories abound about how drivers fudge their logs to make it appear that everything is above board and that they are adhering to the rules, when in fact they may be seriously out of step with the hours-of-service restrictions.

Some drivers claim they can’t earn a decent income by following the rules, others are just greedy, and still others make honest mistakes. The results feed the myth that all drivers falsify their logbooks.

Handwritten logbooks provide all the opportunities in the world for falsification – deliberate or inadvertent. In many cases they also result in illegible reports that require a good deal of deciphering. Either way, hand-written logs are archaic relics of a bygone era.

Over time, industry and enforcement personnel have found ways to combat the incidence of false paper logs and to reduce the administrative burden of monitoring and storing them.

Out of necessity, enforcement personnel devised their own methods of detecting false logs during inspections. These techniques often involve extensive and time-consuming reconciliation of the information contained in the logbook with time markers such as fuel receipts, border crossing and toll receipts. When the opposing records fail to match, we have a ‘gotcha’ situation. This type of enforcement is best done during a facility audit of course, which is well after the fact of any violation.

Employers seeking to streamline a system that resulted in the accumulation of mountains of paper and demanded hours of monitoring invested in technology that addressed those issues and made it pretty much impossible for most drivers to falsify logbooks.

The investment in electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) is substantial, but has proven benefits according to the PMTC members that I consulted with on this issue.

A few years ago, governments began encouraging the use of EOBRs, trumpeting their value in tracking vehicle activity and controlling speeds. In some jurisdictions regulation on logbooks even makes specific reference to electronic logs.

The supplier industry responded to the market demands by developing software and equipment to electronically track vehicle and driver activity, and improvements to the technology are happening every day.

A call to any one of the major suppliers of the equipment and software will open your eyes as to what is actually available out there.

Until recently, roadside inspectors would take a look at the screen in the cab and readily determine whether the driver was in compliance. Easy for the inspector – easy for the driver – easy for the fleet operator who can download the information and print only the records for which a hard copy is required.

So, one might be forgiven for thinking that one more problem had been solved.

But times are changing in Ontario.

Several PMTC member fleets that have installed EOBRs have called the office recently to ask why inspectors are requiring drivers to produce a hard copy of their logbook rather than looking at the screen.

This type of request of course, has always been within the pervue of enforcement officers, but with the advent of EOBRs it seemed that most were happy to review the screen.

We raised the question with the Ontario ministry and were told that inspectors have now been advised not to enter cabs. On the surface there may be good reasons for this decision. According to the ministry, there have been allegations of breakage or theft after inspectors left.

Additionally, the ministry feels there may be some hygiene factors involved, and there is always a risk of a workplace injury such as a fall.

So, where a collaborative effort by industry, government, and technology providers seemed to have provided a viable solution to the false log issue (and to the other issues related to paper logs), we may now have taken a step backwards in at least one jurisdiction.

This may be no more than a case of technology getting out ahead of people. If that is the case, our best bet may to be to wait for technology to catch up again in the form of mobile or handheld screens, which providers tell me are in the works.

Otherwise we need to depend on good will and co-operation from the people on the ground if EOBRs are to continue to provide the benefits they were intended to provide.

– The Private Motor Truck Council is the only national association dedicated to the private trucking community. Your comments or questions can be addressed to

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