Feature Article: Getting on board

| May 01, 2010

An EOBR can provide data on idling and hard braking, says Dave Osiecki, senior vice president for regulatory affairs for the American Trucking Associations. “Even if you are a two- or three-truck fleet – if you turn them on and use that data, there’s value to be had. The [return on investment] can be found. The intangibles – the hassle of filing paper, filing logs – still apply to a small carrier as well.”

“It’s compact, easy and quick to operate. It has a touch screen and a drop-down keyboard. If I’m pulling into a truck stop to fuel, I just use the touch screen and flag it ‘fueling.’” — Schneider owner-operator Sam Mobley about the Qualcomm MCP200 he uses for electronic logging

Many of these capabilities, however, are achievable with applications on GPS-enabled smartphones or laptops, including logging. To be truly electronic in terms of the regulations, though, an EOBR synchronized with the truck’s electronic control module is the sole solution. At least one EOBR solution uses smartphones for regulations-compliant electronic logging. The system is much cheaper than other leading EOBRs. As technology and competition advances, prices could drop further.

Charlotte, N.C.-based owner-operator Sam Mobley, Overdrive’s Trucker of the Month in August 2007, began testing electronic logs in his fleet, Schneider, in February 2009. He’s been officially logging electronically with the MCP200 since November.

“I tried to find every reason in the world not to like these things – and to not make it work – as I could,” he says. “There’s a learning curve at the beginning. I told myself, ‘I can do it faster with pencil and paper.’ But you get in a routine of what you do with it. And I thought I’d never say it, but I do not want to see another paper log book.”

EOBR opposition

Many owner-operators, as well as the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, have long opposed EOBRs. A primary concern is that they amount to Big Brother invading the privacy of your cab and controlling your hours and miles.

“I answer to myself and my wife in questions about my company,” says Howard Salmon, who runs under his own authority and was Overdrive’s Trucker of the Month for October 2009. “I don’t need anybody trying to tell me how to drive.”

Also, not everyone buys the assumption that EOBR use improves safety. “You can put an EOBR in every truck in the United States,” says OOIDA Regulatory Affairs Specialist Joe Rajkovacz, “but you’ll still have the same crash statistics.” The “only way the agency will come up with an across-the-board mandate” is by linking EOBR use with crash risk reduction, “which they haven’t,” he contends.

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, after the 2007 proposed EOBR rulemaking, cited similar concerns, as have other organizations. But groups such as Public Citizen use studies analyzing safety outcomes in Europe, where similar technology has been used since the 1970s, to back up their claims that an EOBR represents a clear safety benefit by reducing the amount of cheating on logs.

Stephen Adams, driver for Oregon-based May Trucking and writer behind the trucking commentary blog TruckerSteve.org, says his electronic logging saves three to four hours in paperwork over a 70-hour period. With the EOBR, he’s averaged 3,200 weekly miles. Other productivity gains associated with newer EOBRs include faster determination of logging location, GPS navigational features and, for independents, elimination or reduction of filing duties related to printed logs, fuel-tax reporting and quarterly estimated tax preparation.

Another objection to required use, Rajkovacz points out, is that the costs cannot be justified. He estimates up-front costs of $1,000 to $3,000 per unit, plus a monthly service fee.

PeopleNet’s Angel counters that a single-truck owner-operator could get into the company’s basic system “with a $900 to $1,100 investment, then a $45 monthly fee” for cellular service.

At Prime, says Safety Director Don Lacy, leased owner-operators not in the company lease-purchase program were assessed minor charges for changing certain cables but not the cost of the units themselves nor the monthly service fee. Schneider National’s approach to installation of the new MCP200 units reflects that of many large fleets with mandatory communications modules – no chargebacks to owner-operators for installation or use. Owner-operators are more likely to face some charges if the installation is not mandatory.

Owner-operators with particular smartphones already in-cab, depending on the phone type, may own EOBR-capable equipment already. Contrary to many claims, there are inexpensive and compliant devices on the market today. In reviewing the costs and benefits of its new EOBR rule, FMCSA said that the least expensive device it found that satisfied agency requirements was the RouteTracker, which is sold by Xata Turnpike, a division of Xata Corp. Like Qualcomm and PeopleNet, Xata also sells more comprehensive fleet management systems.

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