SAFETY GROUPS WANT COMPUTERS TO TRACK TRUCKER DRIVING TIME MOVE INTENDED TO COMBAT FATIGUE

SAFETY GROUPS WANT COMPUTERS TO TRACK TRUCKER DRIVING TIME MOVE INTENDED TO COMBAT FATIGUE

A coalition of highway safety groups led by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety wants the Federal Highway Administration to require trucks to carry onboard computers that would catch violations of hours of service rules.

The institute said that its 1991 survey of 1,249 drivers found two-thirds of the truckers falsified logbooks they're required to keep by the Department of Transportation to track driving time and distances. It said that requiring the onboard monitors would cut down on the problem of driver fatigue, which was identified as the most serious safety problem in the trucking industry at a summit meeting sponsored by the FHWA in March."Using electronic onboard recording devices to monitor truckers' hours behind the wheel makes sense," said Brian O'Neill, president of the institute. "Onboard recorders currently offer the best way to help stop truckers from driving illegally."

Mr. O'Neill said there would be operating and bookkeeping savings to carriers if they installed the devices.

"A responsible truck fleet operator is also interested in making sure his driver doesn't drive while he's tired," he said.

But industry officials, even those who see advantages to the equipment, say they won't save everyone money, and argue they should not be mandated.

"It costs a ton of money, and it'd be more stringent than it'd need to be," said Don Lacy, vice president of driver services at Builders Transport Inc., of Camden, S.C. Builders has monitoring devices on about half its fleet of 2,700 trucks. But Mr. Lacy said it doesn't make sense for his whole fleet, and that he's convinced the logs are accurate.

"We audit them on a regular basis, and we're subject to DOT audits," he said. "We're always concerned about the driver reaction. They'd see it as big brother. You're essentially saying, 'We don't trust you guys.' "

The monitors that would meet DOT log requirements cost between $1,500 and $5,400 a truck, although Mr. O'Neill said prices would probably drop if use was mandatory.

Robert Woods, spokesman for Rockwell Highway Transport Electronics, of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, which makes the Rockwell Tripmaster, said its customers generally recover the cost of the system from operational savings within two years.

"It really depends on the fleet, how they operate, and a number of other factors," he said. "A lot of firms use it for driver incentives, rewarding drivers who maintain good fuel mileage. It automates a lot of functions that normally require clerical support."

John Collins, senior vice president for government affairs with the American Trucking Associations, said no new rules should be issued until a FHWA study on driver fatigue is complete, probably this fall. He said there are better, cheaper ways to enforce hours of service regulations.

"You can get better enforcement by getting better supporting documents," he said. "You've got to be careful thinking every problem has a technological solution. It blinds people to solutions at a much lower cost and better benefit to safety."

FHWA officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday. Other groups joining the institute in petitioning for the regulation are Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Families Against Speeding Trucks, National Association of Governors' Highway Safety Representatives, Parents Against Tired Truckers and Public Citizen.