With three major truck safety initiatives under way, the Department of Transportation is pursuing an ambitious plan to reshape not only how it enforces compliance with its regulations but also how the trucking industry operates.
The CSA 2010 safety program, proposed truck driver hours-of-service rules and now a proposal to require virtually all truckers to use electronic onboard recorders instead of paper logs add up to the biggest changes in the truck safety arena in decades.
The latest proposal, released Jan. 31, would require more than 500,000 trucking operators to purchase and install electronic onboard recorders, or EOBRs, in millions of commercial vehicles. Truckers would have three years to comply.
The logbook drivers use to record duty status — whether faithfully or fraudulently — would be replaced by electronic records that can be downloaded from trucks into carrier software systems or a police officer’s roadside reader. Trucking companies would have to show they have an hours-of-service management program — controls, practices, programs, policies and procedures — much as they must maintain a program to comply with federal drug and alcohol rules.
Carriers would no longer be required to retain supporting documents to verify a trucker’s driving time, but they still would have to keep some supporting documents submitted by drivers for six months. Those documents would be expanded to include any document that could be used to verify the accuracy of a driver’s record.
Documents must include the driver’s name and duty status by date, time and location. Drivers would have three days to get the documents to employers at the end of their duty shift, instead of the current 13 days.
The proposed rule could significantly tighten hours-of-service enforcement — regardless of which HOS proposal eventually makes it past the post.
Coupled with the CSA program, which alerts the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to violations as they are reported, the EOBR mandate would make it much tougher to evade the driving limits. The department hopes the cumulative weight of its proposals will push truck accidents and crash-related deaths to new lows, but some trucking organizations are pushing back against what they see as unnecessary and costly regulation.
The EOBR mandate could cost businesses more than $2 billion a year, by FMCSA estimates, but the agency believes savings will be greater, nearly $2 million in paperwork savings alone, plus additional benefits.
Motor carrier record-keeping savings would amount to $688 per driver. However, carriers would likely spend $1,500 to $2,000 per truck to purchase and install the recorders, plus monthly service fees, the agency said in its proposal.
For larger companies with cash or access to funds, the EOBRs may support efficiency efforts. “We expect to leverage the capabilities of load planning software to enhance productivity based on the real-time information available through EOBRs,” said Kevin P. Knight, chairman and CEO of Knight Transportation, a $731 million truckload carrier.
The FMCSA believes a final rule could be ready by June 2012.
Most trucking operators support CSA and oppose proposed hours-of-service changes, but the EOBR mandate will divide the industry, pitting large carriers that support such a mandate against smaller carriers and owner-operators.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is already suing the FMCSA over a rule released last April that will require chronic HOS violators to install EOBRs, starting in June 2012.
OOIDA argues mandating EOBRs violates driver privacy rights and that carriers could use the devices to harass drivers. It also argues the devices are not a foolproof replacement for written logs, as they don’t record changes in duty status automatically but require action by the truck driver — such as pushing a button.
Now it looks as if FMCSA could spend quite a bit of time in court if trucking groups also challenge its HOS proposal.
An EOBR mandate has some big backers, however, starting with the National Transportation Safety Board, which in 2007 recommended FMCSA require the use of electronic recorders by all truckers subject to driving hours limitations. And five of the largest U.S. truckload carriers — J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Schneider National, U.S. Xpress Enterprises, Knight Transportation and Maverick USA — formed a coalition last year to back legislation introduced by Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., that would mandate the use of EOBRs.
Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg, D-N.J., grilled then-nominee Anne S. Ferro on EOBRs during her confirmation hearing for the administrator’s post at FMCSA. The senator repeatedly urged her to consider requiring their use in all trucks.
The agency is considering three options for its mandate. The first would require EOBRs for all truck drivers who now use paper logs — but not for short haul drivers whose hours are tracked using timecards. The second would extend that mandate to bus drivers and drivers hauling bulk hazardous materials shipments. The third and broadest requirement would put EOBRs in all commercial motor vehicles operated under hours-of-service rules.
Smaller companies wouldn’t get a break for any sort of economic hardship. “The agency does not believe it is feasible to exempt small businesses from a requirement to use EOBRs,” the FMCSA said.
Contact William B. Cassidy at firstname.lastname@example.org.