Federal regulators are preparing an in-depth survey on whether electronic onboard devices used to record truck driver hours of service could be used by motor carriers to harass tired drivers, asking how to prevent potential abuse of the technology.
The survey, detailed in the May 28 Federal Register, is the latest step toward enforcing a 2012 congressional mandate that eventually will require all trucks to be outfitted with electronic onboard recorders to replace paper driver logbooks.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has already held public forums on the EOBR issue and requested and received comments on its plan to survey drivers and carriers. Now the agency wants comments on the actual planned survey.
The FMCSA must submit its survey or “Information Collection Request” to the Office of Management and Budget for approval. The agency seeks comments by June 27.
“The purpose of this new ICR is to broadly examine, by the collection of survey data, the issue of driver harassment and determine the extent to which (EOBRs) used to document drivers' hours of service could be used by motor carriers or enforcement personnel to harass drivers or monitor driver productivity,” the FMCSA said.
The survey will include in-depth interviews conducted in person, by phone and over the Internet with more than 1,000 carriers and drivers, according to the FMCSA.
“These surveys will explore the relevant issues from the point of view of both drivers and carriers toward the use of EOBRs,” the agency said. “The survey results will inform FMCSA in its ongoing rule-making on EOBRs.”
The issue of whether and how to track driver hours using EOBRs has been roiling trucking for decades. The Federal Highway Administration first gave motor carriers the authority to use EOBRs to comply with driver log requirements in 1985.
A 2010 rule that allowed FMCSA to mandate the use of EOBRs by fleets with severe HOS violations was struck down by a federal court in 2011 on the grounds the agency had failed to address the driver harassment issue, as required by law.
Congress in 2012 ensured an eventual EOBR mandate by including a requirement that all trucks be equipped with the devices in the surface transportation reauthorization act, over the objections of owner-operators and small businesses.
The law gives the FMCSA a year to write a new rule requiring EOBRs on all commercial trucks and gives carriers an additional two years to comply with the rule — pushing a mandate out to at least 2015, and some sources expect 2016.
Regulators, and many motor carriers, expect a wholesale switch from paper logbooks to EOBRs will make it much harder for drivers or carriers to evade hours-of-service regulations and argue the mandate will help get “cheaters” off the road.
Some drivers and owner-operators, however, fear they may be coerced into driving when tired as carriers strive to get the most productivity from their tractors and fleets.
In a round of comments earlier this year, 26 truck drivers objected to an electronic logging mandate, citing unreasonable demands of carriers to exceed legal driving times, the FMCSA said. Other drivers raised concerns about privacy and cost.
EOBR suppliers at the ALK Transportation Technology Summit May 14-16 noted the cost of electronic logging devices has dropped substantially and will likely continue to drop, as the widespread use of mobile technology brings equipment prices down.
Companies using such equipment argue that electronic logs integrated with onboard navigation, truck monitoring and mobile communications will make it much easier for carriers and drivers to comply with HOS limits, and much harder to evade them.