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Linda Longton, Editor
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Safety advocates say failing to make electronic on-board recorders mandatory for all commercial vehicles costs lives. Independent Henry Albert says it also costs owner-operators money. Both were disappointed last month when the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration proposed requiring recorders only for carriers who’ve demonstrated a 10 percent or greater rate of violating hours of service regulations in two compliance reviews within two years.

Because it punishes only carriers that get caught, the proposal doesn’t go far enough, safety advocates say. They believe running illegal logs helps many carriers operate beneath the radar, continuing to jeopardize highway safety.

Falsifying logs also takes money out of truckers’ pockets, some say. “The biggest issue for owner-operators is the amount of time we give away,” says Albert, Overdrive’s 2007 Trucker of the Year. “As long as we are willing to hide our time, how can we expect any value to be put on it?”

According to a recent Ol’ Blue USA online survey, truckers are more than willing. It found 77 percent deliberately violate hours rules by logging on-duty time as off-duty or by keeping multiple log books.

Industry-wide recorder use would make it harder for drivers to fudge on their logs and essentially work for free, Albert says. “Accountability will bring higher wages.”

Not all owner-operators share this view. Many, like Oscar Jones III, think any reduction in flexibility will hurt their income. The proposed rule “will run owner-operators out of business because they will be sitting too long waiting to load and unload freight,” he says in comments filed with FMCSA.

But that’s what many thought would happen when truckers lost the ability to stop the clock for naps, breaks and fueling under the revised hours rule that went into effect in 2004. Carriers and shippers were forced to pay more to make up for lost productivity. Some shippers and receivers even cleaned up their acts, reducing waiting time to avoid hefty detention penalties and to help free up tight capacity.

The same would happen with recorders, says trucker James Bryan. Any lost productivity “will be short in duration,” he wrote in his FMCSA filing. “The shippers and receivers will have to do their part to make us more productive.”

There are plenty of reasons for opposing recorders – either on the limited basis FMCSA proposes or industrywide. Cost, potential loss of privacy and misuse of data are just three. But what shouldn’t be among them is fear that providing a full and accurate accounting of the time you work will hurt your bottom line.