A Matter of Time

| April 07, 2005

One casualty of that process was a requirement for electronic onboard recorders or electronic logs, which FMCSA initially felt were key to enforcing the original proposal. FMCSA decided against adopting them for four reasons:

  • Costs varied widely, and benefits were not proven
  • Enforcement officials felt a design standard was necessary and does not exist for printouts from EOBRs
  • The phase-in period, under which larger carriers would have had to obtain EOBRs earlier than smaller carriers, meant larger carriers would probably pay more per unit and smaller carriers, the ones most likely to offend, would not have the recorders for up to four years
  • EOBRs raised certain privacy and litigation concerns among drivers and carriers.

    But EOBRs might still be in the future. The final rule prescribes further study of EOBRs, which, if they are eventually approved, the agency says, will need to identify individual users, resist tampering, produce records for audit, offer easy access to HOS records to roadside enforcement officials, achieve acceptability among drivers and be cost effective.

    “The agency will evaluate alternatives for encouraging or providing incentives for the use of … recorders and other technology to insure that HOS record keepers are in compliance,” Sandberg says.

    The EOBRs were seen as a way to improve enforcement, and without them, safety groups say the new rule won’t cut down the number of drivers who cheat on their logs.

    “Clearly there’s an enforcement problem, but … the science and the data weren’t there at this point in time to mandate those recorders,” Sandberg says. “Under the the new rule, though, “it’s much easier to look at those log books and determine whether they’ve met their requirements than under the old rule.”

    Even if EOBRs aren’t right around the corner, drivers soon might have to provide documentation to back up log books. Sandberg says the agency will follow with another rule addressing documents a driver must keep to back up log books. That rule won’t be done until after the current rule is implemented, she says.

    The FMCSA also canned five operations areas it delineated under its 2000 proposal. The agency said having one rule for all operations greatly simplifies matters for enforcement officials and carriers.

    The FMCSA considered three plans in coming up with its final rule: one authored by the American Trucking Associations, one from safety group Parents Against Tired Truckers and one created internally. It determined that ATA’s proposal didn’t save enough lives and the one from PATT, while it saved more lives than FMCSA’s plan, cost too much money. The FMCSA says its final rule mediates between PATT’s plan and the one offered by ATA.

    The eight-month waiting period before implementation of the rule will give the FMCSA time to train officers, modify computer systems and enforcement manuals and publish educational materials for the public, says Dave Longo, a DOT spokesman. Plans to implement the changes will begin immediately, although truckers will continue to operate under the old rule for the remaining seven months. The FMCSA says it will train more than 8,000 federal and state investigators, inspectors and auditors on the new rule, and the agency will work with the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, an organization of law enforcement and compliance officers, to make any necessary modifications to out-of-service criteria.

    FMCSA officials say the new rule will save as many as 75 lives a year or as few as 24. Both numbers reflect only a small percentage of the 4,902 fatalities from large-truck crashes that occurred in 2002, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

    The officials also said trucking companies would achieve a net productivity gain of more than $1 billion in savings from fewer accidents, deaths and other factors. Their economic analysis also suggested revenue improvements could come from 48,000 drivers the agency says carriers won’t have to hire because of the additional driving time.

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