Feature Article: Getting on board

| May 01, 2010

Getting on board

Some owner-operators fear that electronic onboard recorders cost too much and invade their privacy. As EOBR use spreads, others are embracing them after discovering improved productivity, safety and record-keeping.

PeopleNet’s onboard recorder uses cellular communications and offers features beyond electronic logging.

By Todd Dills

Prime driver Gene St. Germaine, of Candler, N.C., was among the first of the fleet’s drivers and leased owner-operators to transition late last year to electronic onboard recorders. He calls the technology a deterrent to being a “supertrucker” driving beyond legal and physical limitations, “just a bullet flying down the road waiting to hit something.”

While paper logs could be manipulated, “you can’t fudge this,” he says. The EOBR “tells you when you only have another hour before you go into DOT violation. Every fifteen minutes that go by, it keeps telling you, ‘You’ve got to shut down.’ That’s a great safety feature.”

St. Germaine is hardly alone in his opinion. Many large carriers have been using EOBRs for months, even years, and are getting positive reports from drivers and management. With that momentum, a new federal rule mandating their use for unsafe carriers, and new motivation for using EOBRs linked to the onset of the Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 program, it appears electronic logging will continue to spread much further.

Even though it will be 2012 before the newly issued EOBR rule from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration takes effect, thousands of EOBRs are in use. PeopleNet eLogs Product Manager Jim Angel says that eLogs since 2003 has been installed in upwards of 100,000 power units, mostly in private fleets. Qualcomm units are also in thousands of trucks.

Qualcomm reps noted greater prevalence of use in private fleets, adding that the pace of adoption among for-hire carriers is accelerating. Among those, Werner Transportation has been running electronic for years. Carriers recently adopting or testing EOBRs include FedEx Custom Critical, Schneider National, Prime Inc., Marten Transport, Central Refrigerated, May Trucking and TCW.

EOBR benefits

Since February, Bob and Linda Caffee, team expediters leased to a major carrier, have used the Qualcomm MCP200 unit in their Freightliner Business Class M2. “We know several people who were dead set against [EOBRs], who now say they’ll never go back to paper logs,” Bob says.

Schneider National, the nation’s largest truckload carrier, uses the Qualcomm MC200 for electronic logging and other purposes.

That’s what former FMCSA Administrator John Hill, now a consultant, often hears at speaking engagements. “There have been at least five instances where people came up to me after the presentation,” he says. “What they said was, ‘We were a carrier and … got into trouble with the hours of service and worked with FMCSA to get EOBRs put in, and the drivers, including the independent contractors, thoroughly enjoyed it and they wouldn’t go back. It creates an atmosphere where everybody in the organization knows that this is how we will do business, and it removes the idea that there’s any possibility of cheating.’”

With current EOBRs, users can benefit from functions beyond logging driving hours. Schneider National, FedEx Custom Critical and many other carriers have adopted Qualcomm’s MCP200, which offers the operator a sophisticated touch-screen display and text-to-voice capabilities to navigate functions such as GPS-enabled driving directions, communications, wireless Internet access and electronic logs. In this and some other systems, one touch of a button displays your location on a screen.

“I don’t want Big Brother telling me what I can and can’t do. That’s why I became an independent operator: to be my own boss.” — Independent Howard Salmon, about his resistance to electronic logging.

Marten Transport, which moved to electronic logs last year, is also implementing the MCP200. The decision, says company Information Systems Director Randy Baier, “was independent of the onboard logging decision – the other capabilities drove it,” including the fact that communications are conducted through the cellular network rather than via satellite.

The PeopleNet system, also utilizing cellular communications, includes automated fuel tax possibilities, Angel says. “The system captures fuel mileage info, a lot of stuff that makes life simpler for a single driver or a fleet of drivers.” For example, you can communicate with shippers to notify them of exact delivery times for dock prep.

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