Paper Cut

Max Kvidera | February 01, 2011

Many electronic log users say the devices are making life easier, but others anticipate the annoying sting of Big Brother


May Trucking driver and trainer Chris Bigbey says the electronic logging device in his 2010 truck makes his life easier and gives him more time to work with entry-level drivers. Tom Williams, a May driver orientation instructor, adds that the onboard recorder has reduced the amount of training devoted to hours of service.

Independent owner-operator Howard Salmon sees it differently. “I don’t want to be limited to speed or time or where I am or having someone looking at me constantly,” he says.

Koch & Sons Trucking driver Marshall Platter has experienced positives and negatives from using two electronic logging systems at two carriers in the past year and a half. On the downside, he had to stop twice within minutes of his home because he ran out of hours. On the positive side, the EOBR will do a legal split sleeper berth maneuver, something, he says, he was unable to do successfully most of the time with paper logs.

For many truckers whose carriers have installed electronic onboard recorders, the move relieves them of the chore of filling in paper logbooks and helps them concentrate more on their driving. Yet others, particularly owner-operators, view the device as an unnecessary expense, an invader of their privacy and unproven in helping improve trucking safety.

At the same time, a growing number of carriers are making the commitment and installing the device, often as an add-on to an existing truck communication system. Hundreds of thousands of EOBRs are in operation and thousands more are being added monthly, device suppliers say.

In some cases, carriers are installing the recorders in anticipation of an industry-wide mandate many observers predict is coming. In a federal rule that takes effect in 2012, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has mandated EOBRs for violation-prone carriers. Already, the agency has demanded some unsafe companies to equip their fleets with EOBRs, and more such actions are anticipated as the Compliance, Safety, Accountability program revs up this year.

EOBR pros

Dave Osiecki, senior vice president for regulatory affairs with the American Trucking Associations, says EOBRs enhance compliance for those operators “who may be fudging around the edges” by not accurately filling out their logbooks.

“I hated it when I first got it. But now I’ve got to the point where I’m pretty much used to it. It’s going to get mandated at some point in the near future.”

— Marshall Platter, driver for Koch & Sons Trucking

“Law enforcement looks at things like duty status and number of hours for drivers,” says Bob Viso, vice president of safety at U.S. Xpress, which has been testing an electronic logging system and aims to have all 6,000 of its drivers on it by the end of 2011. “The system will help drivers comply with those pieces.”

Since an EOBR defines the driver’s hours, it removes the option of pushing for more miles. “I’ve gotten feedback from drivers that it reduces their stress,” says Don Osterberg, vice president of safety at Schneider National. “When a driver is out of hours, he’s out of hours and needs to shut down. It’s a definitive end point to their day.”

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