Paper Cut

Max Kvidera | February 01, 2011

OOIDA opposes a mandate. Spencer says certain Congress members support a mandate, as do several large carriers that want “to level the playing field. All they’re really interested in is saddling their competition, their small business competitors, with increased costs and regulatory burdens,” he says. “We have no issue with any carrier that wants to use them — that’s between them and their drivers. But trying to mandate what everyone else should do — forget about it.”

Q. What do you think of electronic onboard recorders?

They intrude on privacy and work — 66%

They save time and help with compliance — 25%

I don’t know much about them — 9%

Source: poll, 169 responses


Recorders in Europe

Europe has used types of onboard recorders for far longer and in ways not yet dreamed about in the U.S.

The first mechanical tachograph, outfitted with a stylus that plotted speeds over a 24-hour period on a paper graph, was introduced to commercial transportation in the 1950s. A decade later, countries led by Germany and then France began requiring them. In the 1980s, the tachograph was made mandatory on commercial trucks by the European transportation board, followed by the European Union. In the ’90s countries began using the devices to enforce trucker speeding.

Tampering problems with mechanical tachographs led to development of an electronic version, which was linked to chip card technology similar to what’s employed in the banking industry. Truckers were issued cards similar to a driver’s license with an embedded chip that contained the data recorded by the tachograph. If the driver is stopped by police, the card is inserted into a terminal to download information. The card is also an identification tool that enables only the driver to start his vehicle.

“In Europe and even in Canada, in the event of an accident or roadside stop for speeding, the driver knows to pull out his card and have the police officer sign it,” says Christian Schenk, of Xata Corp., whose father owned the company that introduced tachographs to North America. “In the U.S., it was never adopted. It was more of an accountability tool than an hours tool [in Europe]. It was more about saving fuel and ensuring your drivers weren’t going for a two-hour nap on the clock.”

In 2007, first in Germany followed by other countries, Europe began a project to integrate the electronic tachograph with electronic toll collection. As the driver passes over digitally mapped roads, tolls and fuel taxes are charged automatically in real time.

When the tachographs were introduced in Europe, “drivers were furious,” Schenk says. “Regulatory scrutiny in Europe is 10 times what it is here in the United States and 10 times what CSA will be when fully implemented. It’s like Big Brother’s with you all the time.”

Mexico implemented digital tachographs in the mid-1990s only for certain operators, such as hazmat carriers, oversize or overweight load haulers or truckers with a poor driving history. “They haven’t taken it to the level as in Europe,” Schenk says.

What drivers say

“I didn’t think I would like it because of all the horror stories. But a lot of what you hear is just garbage. … Before, you didn’t have to think much about hours and mileage. Now you have to think about it a lot more. If you’re driving legal, it’s very little change. But if you had double or triple logs, it will bite you in the butt.”

— Stephen Michaels, company driver for Central Refrigerated, who’s been driving since 2006

“I touch the screen and push a couple of buttons, and it does the rest for me. It calculates everything for you and you don’t make any mistakes. Getting used to it at first was a little scary. Every now and then the only problem is to get some customers to understand we need to get the trucks in and out because it will affect your driving time for the day.”

— Randy Earl, company driver for 21 years at U.S. Xpress

Electronic recorder timeline

1950s — First mechanical tachograph used in commercial vehicles in Europe.

1977 — National Transportation Safety Board made recommendation to Federal Highway Administration for use of onboard recording devices for commercial vehicle hours-of-service compliance.

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