Paper Cut

Max Kvidera | February 01, 2011

“The correlation between [electronic on-board recorder] usage and improved safety is poppycock.”

— Todd Spencer, executive vice president, OOIDA

Daniel Murray, vice president of research at the American Transportation Research Institute, acknowledges the correlation between electronic recorders and safety and crash reduction management is weak. He says a 2007 survey showed the fleets were more interested in adopting EOBR technology for compliance, not safety management. “That doesn’t mean people were saying that EOBRs would manage fatigue and reduce crashes,” he says. “They view it simply as a compliance tool.”

Osterberg says the rigidity of electronic log measurements compared with paper logs will have an indirect impact on safety. “The net effect will be an improvement in safety,” he says. “It will improve driver quality of life because it’s easier, and it will take a lot of the regulatory noncompliance issues off the table.”

Scott Smith, vice president at May Trucking, bluntly says EOBRs won’t improve a company’s safety performance. “If you’re using EOBR as a tool to improve safety, you’re going to have issues,” he says. “You’re going to be compliant or not. You’re going to run your fleet in a certain way. That’s where the safety factor comes into play.”

Trucking operators, especially independents, are concerned about EOBR cost. While some carriers that have mandated EOBRs for their fleets have borne the expense of installing the equipment and monthly service fees for their leased contractors, others have had to pick up the cost or a portion of it themselves. That could be a major factor if a universal mandate is enacted. “Why do I have to pay for something new when I know my company works just fine [without it]?” Salmon says. “If I’m made to do it, they better have a better way to do it and pay for it or assist in paying for it.”

Relatively low-cost options do exist, including devices accessed through mobile handsets, such as Xata Turnpike Corp.’s RouteTracker solution, which meets FMCSA’s technical requirements for a compliant product for just the cost of a monthly service fee of about $35. The costs for the multifunction systems most fleets are using start at around $900 with a monthly fee of $35 or more for cellular service and can climb to more than $2,000. Leased operators who already have a Qualcomm or PeopleNet system could add an electronic log component for a monthly charge of $45 or less.

A few owner-operators regard EOBRs as a threat to their privacy. “We’re going to be looked at under the microscope in ever more detail,” Salmon says.

Osiecki doesn’t buy that argument. He says it would be a problem if the devices captured more data about the driver that wasn’t protected. “Government isn’t interested in taking a Big Brother approach — only the movement from a paper log to an electronic log,” he says. “If it’s in the context of safety, everyone should be in favor of that.”

Mandate or not

Whether the EOBR question ends up as a mandate is on everyone’s mind.

Driver checking information on Xata Turnpike handheld device.

“Companies realize this is coming,” says Christian Schenk, Xata’s vice president of product marketing. “Fleets don’t know where they’re going to fit in [under CSA]. It’s been mandatory for 30 years in Europe. I see it becoming mandatory here maybe in 36 to 60 months,” after the trucking industry and regulators have had time to adjust to CSA.

Pat Quinn, co-chairman and president of U.S. Xpress, is a member of a coalition of carriers that is supporting legislation to mandate EOBRs for the entire industry. He says the major reason for supporting a mandate is the public perception of trucking safety. “In most surveys people believe that truckers do not abide by DOT rules and regulations as they pertain to hours of service,” he says. “This will level the playing field and assure the general public that a much greater percentage of truckers are compliant.”

PeopleNet’s safety and compliance product manager Jim Angel foresees a stepped approach to requiring EOBRs, beginning with a possible mandate for motor coach and hazmat load carriers this year. An overall transportation bill by 2014 could carry a mandate. “[FMCSA Administrator] Anne Ferro says the industry and government feel this is the direction we need to go,” Angel says.

ATA’s Osiecki foresees a mandate proposal perhaps by the end of this year. The hurdle could be the absence of data to show a mandate would be cost-effective for the industry. Government agencies are obligated to evaluate and show the costs and benefits of their regulations. “In the past they couldn’t get close to a mandate passing the cost/benefit test,” he says. “That may still be the case with FMCSA. Congress at some point may step in and say, ‘You’ve got to do it.’”

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