Channel 19

Todd Dills

EOBRs controversy over the national airwaves missing extant/emerging solutions

| April 22, 2011

Wednesday, National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” program ran this piece on the issue of the proposed federal mandate for electronic on-board recorder use for hours-of-service monitoring. If it goes into effect, virtually all interstate haulers will be required to use an EOBR for logs. You can still comment on the proposed EOBR rule, through May 23.

In the NPR piece, owner-operator Terry Button is featured (click the photo thumbnail of him here, by Maggie Starbard, for the full story), taking the point of view that a mandate is unnecessary. Much of the piece, however, is devoted to the factions on either side of the issue within the industry itself — with the American Trucking Associations now voicing approval of the mandate in a general sense and the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association continuing to be opposed, noting large carriers’ arguments of EOBRs’ “leveling the playing field” as code for hampering independents with costly devices. As in all such reporting I’ve seen outside the trade press here, what the report totally misses is that low-cost EOBR options exist, which I’ve reported on here, and more are quick on the way.

I spoke Thursday with the folks at uDrove, maker of the multifunction smartphone app for computer-assisted logging, vehicle inspection reports, paperless record-keeping and more. With a web storage account for $25 monthly completing the package, company reps have seen a great deal of interest in the app since it’s formal launch last year to allow owner-operators to go completely paperless. Fully functional on the iPhone, Android phones and Blackberries, it’s proved a convenient tool thus far. The company is now building its “Gateway” system to be a full-function EOBR, well positioned for the potential eventual mandate. uDrove’s will be another low-cost EOBR, with wireless communication between a “black box” connected to the ECM and the operator’s smartphone.

As with the Xata Turnpike EOBR I’ve written about in recent past, uDrove will offer an EOBR that is managed directly from the operator’s smartphone. In addition to logs, critical equipment information will be accessible in real time to identify cost-reduction opportunities, track performance, and more. The EOBR will be available this year, perhaps as early as late summer, says Joel McGinley, and for existing uDrove users upgrading to it if necessary will be only a matter of plugging in the ECM “black box” module and going.

“Fleets/OOs can start out with the phone [for non-EOBR computer-assisted logging], and if the mandate does come, they don’t have to scrub anything,” McGinley says. “All they have to do is plug the black box into their truck, and it starts talking to the phone. It will be a great option for folks who want to start with an electronic environment today – all they have to do is plug that in if the mandate comes. It’s going to be pretty slick. We’re excited about that.”

Computer-assisted logging has reached new levels of acceptance from DOT enforcement officers of late. Owner-operator Robert Shumate, who uses the laptop-based Driver’s Daily Log program for his logs and vehicle inspection reports, says he rarely gets more than cursory attention to his logs. Officers “respect the technology,” he says, noting that it helps him avoid more in-depth inspections by projecting a safe image in officers’ minds, important in the CSA era. (I featured Shumate in the “CSA and Safety Scores” story in this month’s Overdrivegive it a look here.)

As for uDrove’s current solution, says McGinley, improvements have been the focus of the last months. “I think the thing that owner-operators are really beginning to see as a real value,” he says, is the total package, the ability to go virtually paperless with record-keeping in just a single device, with a single program. And in terms of refinement, he adds. “We’ve made a couple changes on how we do log-book management on the back end. If they make a mistake or have to make some kind of a correction, the ability to do that much more easily is current. We’ve also made changes in how we report IFTA… Now we’ve allowed a feature for an owner-operator to get an IFTA view a quarter at a time and have it look more like what they would expect on an IFTA report.”