Feature Article: Getting on board

| May 01, 2010


Rule will push recorders on thousands of carriers

By Avery Vise

Last month the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced a final rule for electronic onboard recorders that is significantly more stringent than a regulation proposed three years ago.

FMCSA now mandates EOBRs on carriers that are shown in a single compliance review to be in serious noncompliance with any major hours-of-service regulation. The final rule takes effect on June 4, 2012, giving EOBR suppliers time to adjust to the new performance standards adopted in the final rule.

“I thought: Now I’ve got Big Brother watching me even closer. I won’t ever be able to sneeze again with him knowing. Once I learned its tricks and everything, I’d say it’s a lot better.” – Central Regrigerated driver Stephen Michaels on his carrier's move to electronic logs.

In the regulation proposed in January 2007, the agency planned to mandate EOBRs based on a review of HOS records during each of two compliance reviews conducted within two years. FMCSA estimated that under the proposal, approximately 930 carriers would be subject to mandatory EOBRs. Those carriers had 90 percent higher crash rates than the general population.

Now FMCSA estimates nearly 5,700 carriers will use EOBRs after the final rule’s first year of implementation. Carriers that would be subject to mandatory EOBRs if the final rule were in place today have 40 percent higher crash rates than the general carrier population, FMCSA says. 

Under the final rule, if an audit finds that a carrier has a violation rate of 10 percent or greater for any major HOS regulation contained in a new list, FMCSA will require the carrier to install EOBRs in all trucks and to use them for two years.

“We have no plans currently to challenge the EOBR rulemaking,” says Joe Rajkovacz, regulatory affairs specialist for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. “The rulemaking as it stands is eminently avoidable for motor carriers if drivers take care of their log books and make sure all date- and time-stamped documents (tolls, fuel receipts, etc.) match their logs.”

While the final rule, like the 2007 proposal, ties the EOBR mandate to remedial action, FMCSA elaborated in its new rule on plans for a broader rulemaking. It would expand the scope of mandatory EOBRs due to the safety risks of groups such as “passenger carriers, hazardous materials transporters, and new motor carriers seeking authority to conduct interstate operations.”

Under the performance standards of the new rule, EOBRs must automatically record the truck’s location at each change of duty status and at intervals while in motion. EOBRs also must conform to specific information processing standards to ensure data security and integrity.

FMCSA estimates the rule’s cost at $139 million a year and safety-related benefits at $182 million.

Todd Dills contributed to this report.


Other types of computer-assisted logging

One reason some carriers cite for using EOBRs is the 2008 Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration determination it would begin considering electronic device position reports as supporting documents in hours-of-service compliance. In its April EOBR rulemaking, the agency offered fleets voluntarily installing EOBRs relief from driving time-related supporting documents requirements.

While not qualifying as an electronic onboard recorder under the federal definition, smartphone/web storage applications like uDrove (shown here on the iPhone and Blackberry) nevertheless are seeing increased use by owner-operators. The systems enable tax preparation, electronic documentation of logs and fuel purchases, and other paperwork-reducing tasks.

Nydin Transport independent owner-operator Terry Angleton didn’t have that ruling in mind when he began cleaning up his Omaha, Neb., office this year, but he was worried about the possibility of an audit on his year-and-a-half-old business. He’s replacing paper documents with the uDrove service, a smartphone application installed on his Motorola HTC Eris, driven by the Android operating system. It’s combined with an online storage account for documentation of fuel purchases sorted by type (reefer or truck), mileage information tracked with GPS, load tracking information that can be shared with shippers and receivers, inspection reports and, yes, logs.

Companies offering similar logging applications – another is the laptop-based Driver’s Daily Log and a similar program for the iPhone – note they do not satisfy FMCSA regulations for EOBRs, but rather they’re lower-cost solutions that also save time. Considering the previously tedious preparation of quarterly estimated taxes alone, Angleton says, “now it’s all there in the database. That’s two to three weeks saved – $8,000-$10,000 saved a quarter.”

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