Death Of A Legend?

| December 12, 2008

In its opinion throwing out the new hours-of-service rule, the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals cited these lyrics from the famous trucking song, “Six Days on the Road,” as proof that driver non-compliance with hours regulations is “the stuff of legend.”

Among other things, it’s that legendary status that led the court to chastise the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for failing to consider the benefits of using onboard recorders to monitor compliance. Scrambling to address that concern, FMCSA last month issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking asking for comment on a possible requirement that carriers use recorders.

What impact would onboard recorders have on an industry that has successfully dodged them for years? Owner-operators, in particular, have vocally opposed “black boxes” as another scheme to keep them from making money.

But onboard recorders might actually help you earn more. That’s been the case with the new hours rule. Many owner-operators were convinced that the inflexibility of the 14 consecutive hours would drive them out of business. Instead, a recent study by American Truck Business Services found that because carriers paid them more, plenty of owner-operators earned more this year than the same period last year, even though they drove fewer miles.

The same scenario could apply to recorders. Reduced cheating would level the playing field, forcing unsafe operators out of business. Law-abiding carriers would have to raise rates – and pay you more – to make up for reduced miles brought on by total compliance. And shippers and receivers would need to continue making the kind of productivity-enhancing changes we’ve seen under the new rule.

Of course, there are plenty of reasons to be leery of recorders, too. How much will they cost? How reliable and accurate would they be? And how do we address privacy issues?

By asking for comments, FMCSA seeks to answer those questions and more. In the meantime, experts predict recorders will become mandatory – eventually. Let’s just hope when that day comes we see the same positive effect we’ve realized from the currently up-in-the-air hours rule.

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