For the Record
A Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration proposal that all interstate commercial truck and bus carriers that use paper logbooks to track hours-of-service compliance would have to use electronic onboard recorders drew a mostly negative reaction from many in the trucking industry.
The proposal would relieve carriers of the current requirement to retain certain HOS documents, such as delivery and toll receipts, that are now used to verify the number of hours the vehicle is in operation. Approximately 500,000 carriers would be affected by the proposed rule, FMCSA said.
Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ordered FMCSA to issue a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) on HOS supporting documents by yearend. In December, the court gave the agency another month — until Jan. 31 — to comply. The court order stemmed from a lawsuit the American Trucking Associations filed just over a year ago to compel FMCSA to move forward with a regulation as mandated by Congress in the mid-1990s.
By the time ATA filed its lawsuit, FMCSA had already announced it was planning to link new regulations on supporting documents to an expansion of the EOBR mandate. In April 2010, FMCSA issued a final rule requiring carriers that have a history of serious log violations to install EOBRs. That rule takes effect in June 2012.
Interstate carriers that use records of duty status (RODS) logbooks to document drivers’ HOS would be required to use EOBRs. Short-haul interstate carriers that use timecards to document HOS would not be required to use them. Carriers that violate this EOBR requirement would face civil penalties of up to $11,000 for each offense. Noncompliance would also negatively impact a carrier’s safety fitness rating and DOT operating authority.
“This proposal is an important step in our efforts to raise the safety bar for commercial carriers and drivers,” said FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro. “We believe broader use of EOBRs would give carriers and drivers an effective tool to strengthen their HOS compliance.”
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association saw it differently. “EOBRs are nothing more than overpriced record keepers,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA. “This proposal is actually another example of the administration’s determination to wipe out small businesses by continuing to crank out overly burdensome regulations that simply run up costs.”
OOIDA said EOBRs cannot accurately and automatically record a driver’s hours of service and duty status. They can only track the movement and location of a truck and require human interaction to record any change of duty status.
Last year, U.S. Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) introduced legislation that would have required all interstate carriers to use EOBRs. The measure won the support of a new coalition, The Alliance for Driver Safety & Security, which was formed by five large trucking companies: J.B. Hunt, Knight Transportation, Maverick USA, Schneider National and U.S. Xpress. The bill died at the end of the 111th Congress.
To comply with the proposed mandate, carriers and operators could spend less than $1,000 to about $2,400 to install EOBRs according to various industry estimates. In addition, they would spend less than $30-45 for monthly data transmission fees. For as little as $35 a month, an operator could install and use an EOBR application on a cell phone or smart phone.
David Owen, president of the National Association of Small Trucking Companies, says mandated EOBRs would cost carriers plenty and enhance compliance but not safety. Owen calculates mandated EOBRs will cost the industry around $12 billion for installation and $500 million in annual fees and communication costs. “An EOBR is nothing more than an expensive device to ‘game’ CSA and allow a company to appear much safer than they truly are,” he said.