Hours and EOBRs: Operator challenge No. 2

| August 03, 2012

The trucking industry faces more restrictive hours of service restart rules starting in 2013, as well as the prospect of litigation further delaying that date or even changing the revised hours rule. That uncertainty is complicated by the voluntary adoption of electronic onboard recorders by many carriers and the congressional mandate for EOBRs in the recently passed highway reauthorization bill. (See details via this page and this page. For full EOBR coverage, find numerous recent stories here.)

Former flatbedding owner-operator Don Lanier, based in Alton, Ill., and today leased with a Freightliner straight truck to expediter J.D. Clark Logistics, says he’s never had to run with an EOBR himself, but has “heard good and bad” from other operators. “Some say guys don’t want them so they can cheat, but with today’s CSA and roadside inspections and weigh stations getting tougher, that’s a fool’s game. I don’t personally want to be tethered to one. It’s intrusive, and ‘big brother’ has enough on his hands just keeping the Congress working, let alone me.”

While such sentiments tend to dominate conversations among operators who don’t utilize EOBRs today, there is real division about their use. Operators leased to one of the many fleets who’ve adopted EOBRs, among them Schneider National and Prime Inc., in many cases come to appreciate them for benefits including paperwork reduction and operational streamlining.

‘We need more flexibility’
Owner-operator Jeff Clark calls the combo of the rigid 14-hour rule and FMCSA’s intention to enforce it with EOBRs a “sell out” to large companies to tip the scales their way.“I deal with a lot of small customers,” he says. “Most of these customers can’t take a truckload at a time. I will often have appointments as early as 3 a.m. in the meat markets of Chicago and then deliveries in the suburbs hours later. It is easy to get out of the city at 4 a.m., then go back to bed until my suburban customers open. I have seen drivers who get stuck at a customer for six to seven hours told to wait another three to four to show a 10-hour break even though they never slept.”The rigidity of the 14-hour clock “also forces drivers to hurry,” Clark adds. “That is never good. I think that in the long run the 14-hour rule will lead to an increase in accidents.”

At Prime, “We have polled our folks numerous times, and there is no desire to return to paper logs,” says company Safety Director Don Lacy. “Electronic logs have ramped up the efficiency in our operations department and eliminated the uncertainties that used to actually contribute to wasted time. Operations, sales and owner-operators are now all on the same page with complete transparency.”

Tom Blake has found similar benefits on a much smaller scale after installing PeopleNet units in his fleet’s five trucks, plus one owner-operator’s truck running under his authority. That includes the Peterbilt he drives. He paid $1,400 apiece for the units, and now pays a monthly service fee.

He figures the expense is “a wash for the man-hours I had to put into figuring out trip sheets and fuel taxes and auditing all the logs.” That means more time he can spend hustling container freight, he says.

While he’d never had a driver put out of service for a log book violation, Blake came to EOBRs in 2011 worried about what form and manner violations were doing to his fleet’s score in the Fatigued Driving category of CSA. His numbers were verging on alert status, which would trigger an intervention.

Blake presented his stark choice to his drivers: “I said, ‘I’ve got two options. Either I install recorders or I’m going to have to shut my doors.” Blake views his decision to install EOBRs as a necessary adaptation, echoing Schneider’s owner-operator fleet leader Mike Bethea’s thoughts on technological change. (Read more about Blake’s move to EOBRs in related reporting here.)

“The environment is encroaching on the guys who’ve gotten by with a little bit of luck,” Bethea says. Use of “electronic logs is coming in with most every major carrier, or they’re experimenting with it. We’re going to have to figure out how to optimize our time better so we can bring in revenue.” Owner-operators need to “keep ahead with the technology” in all aspects.

But former household-goods owner-operator and current fuel hauler Allen Smith, like many owner-operators, believes there is a widely held misconception in regulatory and legislative circles that sees EOBRs as a cure-all for safety problems. Instead, there are larger root causes, such as detention. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association was right, he says, to challenge the previous recorder rule – the court threw out that limited mandate a year ago on grounds that FMCSA did not give due diligence to the issue of whether recorders could be used to harass drivers.

FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee took up the harassment issue last February, followed by listening sessions with drivers on EOBRs and harassment at the Mid-America Trucking Show in March and a Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance event in April.

Be aware of your EOBR options.
If and when the newly minted EOBR mandate begins (assuming various challenges that may drag out implementation), independent owner-operators will have many choices for compliance. Costs vary widely in terms of up-front payments and monthly fees.

Devices like Xata Turnpike’s RouteTracker come with no down payment, just a monthly addition to your cellular service plan and apps on your existing smartphone. J.J. Keller’s eLog device and Sable Truck Systems’ Android tablet EOBR have up-front hardware costs under $500. Keller’s has a nominal monthly maintenance fee, but Sable’s has none.

Thomas Bray, senior transportation management editor for J.J. Keller, advises operators to stay aware of the market and choices for compliant devices.

“If somebody hasn’t looked at EOBRs in the last five years, it’s gone down from thousands of dollars to just a few hundred dollars” in terms of average device cost, he says. “As it goes mandatory in a few years, so many people will jump into the market that it will be very cheap.”

He points to cell phone market trends as analogous. “My cell phone contractor now throws in a free cell phone” with every contract, he says. EOBRs may end up being much the same, with customers paying primarily for service.

Early adopters will get the benefit of better service from vendors, Bray says. “You’ll be able to learn how to operate in that electronic environment earlier,” getting a leg up on your competition. “You can do the transition in a more controlled manner.”

Sample smartphone logging apps.
Most smartphone apps designed for logging hours of service do not have a level of functionality that will satisfy federal requirements for monitoring hours compliance. Still, at less than $10, they present an easy, private alternative for getting accustomed to some aspects of electronic logging.

Challenge No. 1: Fuel prices.

  • http://www.facebook.com/don.lanier1 Don Lanier

    A single truck operator myself, and PRIME or Big Orange, comparing them apples isnt quite a good deal for the Little guy = ME, While they have Safety depts and Compliance depts and on and on and million dollar budgets, the few hundred here and there equals less food on my table, longer waits for new tires, and more work with less pay…I never need to cheat a log, but I dont need anyone looking over my shoulder to get the job done either.

  • mousekiller

    The only benefit to having a EOBR is for drivers that don’t have the guts to tell a dispatcher NO I am too tired or roads are to slick to continue or this is the last truck stop between the state line and customer.
    It will benefit only the slaves behind the wheel and curtail unscrupulous dispatchers and truck company owners from unrealistic demands on their drivers. This is the behavior of 2nd and 3rd class carriers and drivers should not be there as long as they do.
    The EOBR is for control only. It is not for safety as the ATA and talking heads from the FMCSA and other govt agencies claim. Since when is it ok for a customer to check on my truck and where my truck is via the internet. As an owner operator ,and I own the EOBR that would be an invasion of my privacy. At the very least using my equipment to track the load that is not late with out MY permission.
    Pay me for the use of it . I think $50 each location check is fair.

  • JIT

    I’ve been an Owner-operator for 15 months after having been a Company driver for one of the bigger carriers. Here’s what you really get with a EOBR. You get to play “Beat The Clock”. You will push the clock and be distracted by watching the minutes tick rather than focusing on the task at hand, SAFE DRIVING! As your hours grow near ending a “buzzer” or “voice” or both will come across the EOBR warning you. Yet, another attention breaking event! Now for the “Panic Mode”. My minutes are evaporating, I’m close to where I have to be whether that’s a shipper, receiver, or safe haven, and THE DEATH BUZZER GOES OFF telling you that you’ve just run out of HOS. Now your mind is filled with Repercussion. Will I be WRITTEN UP, SUSPENDED, OR WORSE YET FIRED!! The lack of a margin of error gives too much room for uneven and inconsistent discipline. They “like you” or “don’t like you” can be the determining factor. As well, Congress has been Lobbied by larger carriers for the mandate of EOBR’s. Currently the big carriers control most of the better freight through volume due to size. Now they want to control how the Independent Driver will drive. A Final Reminder: J.B.Hunt lobbied Congress to have Trucks GOVERNED TO 68 MPH at the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) Put that in you soup and eat it after you look at Snopes.com. So just “Who” is really behind this BIG push for EOBR’s ?

  • Steven Nosack

    While we can all sit here and complain about EOBR’s, the fact of the matter is they are coming, regardless of what we think or say. The problem is not the 95% who do the job and do it right, it is the 5% that give us all a bad name that have brought this upon us. You never hear of the driver that has received an inspection every 90 days for the last 10 years with no violations, but you will always hear of the driver placed out of service for a log book being four days behind, and so many maintenance issues on the truck that it shouldn’t even be rolling down the road. The plain truth is that 5% did this to us, and now we must all pay, regardless of how we feel.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000082420797 David Wood

    I think if we are going to be forced to have these EROBs then they should change the rule back so we can stop the clock instead of having this 14 hr rule you can’t stop and what would be wrong with splitting our drive time and sleeper time I only sleep about 6 Hrs a night anyway. you could drive 5 take 5 off or sleep then drive 6 more then sleep or take 5 more. Like we used to do it

  • leavitttrucking

    I as and owner operator do not want a EOBR in my truck. If I can’t be trusted to run legal then they can’t be trusted neither.

OverdriveOnline.com strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.