Guessing game

Randy Grider, Editor
[email protected]

In the past few months, truckers have seen and heard a lot about ULSD and DPFs.

Now comes another and more dreaded acronym popping back into the headlines – EOBRs.

While ultra low sulfur diesel and diesel particulate filters have gotten a lot of ink with the implementation of lower-emission regulations set for the coming year, electronic onboard recorders are poised to dominate headlines again in the near future.

Until recently, EOBRs and the controversy surrounding them had been on the back burner. The so-called “black boxes” were not a part of the last hours-of-service revision other than a note that they would be considered in a separate rulemaking process.

That time is apparently just around the corner. In August, we learned that the White House is reviewing a Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration’s proposal concerning EOBRs.

Exactly what impact the proposal will have on the trucking industry is unclear. While there is no guarantee that the proposal will mandate the use of EOBRS in some fashion at some point in the future, the pending appeal of the hours of service by some trucking groups and safety advocates makes it likely.

Playing the guessing game is tough. How do you make a rule that efficiently works for everyone? There are so many variables to consider in each segment of the trucking industry.

Obviously, the pressure for EOBRs is aimed at the long-haul segment of the industry. It is there that groups like Public Citizen, C.R.A.S.H. and P.A.T.T. feel the industry fails to police itself accurately. This makes it probable an EOBR mandate might not be a one-size-fits-all rule.

If this is the case, EOBR regulations are sure to draw criticism as unfair from those affected the most. Determining which segments of the industry have compliance issues would be complex and controversial.

The American Trucking Associations must believe that EOBRs are inevitable because it announced conditional support for EOBRs in October 2005. Some of the conditions are that:

  • There should be consensus-based evidence that EOBR use enhances fleet safety performance by such means as accident rate reduction and improved compliance;
  • EOBR systems should be based on the minimal, functional and performance specifications necessary to record and report hours-of-service compliance accurately and assure reliability and utility of operation;
  • Statutory protections should be afforded to motor carriers pertaining to the control, ownership and admissibility/discoverability of data generated and derived from EOBRs;
  • Drivers shall be responsible for operating the EOBR in full compliance with all applicable regulations;
  • Any EOBR regulation must address the operational diversity of the trucking industry;
  • Motor carriers using compliant EOBRs should be relieved of the burden of retaining supporting documents for hours-of-service compliance and enforcement purposes;
  • Any EOBR mandate, if instituted, should be made simultaneously applicable to all vehicles of the affected population of motor carriers, and it also should avoid any implementation inequities identified;
  • Any EOBR regulation that takes an incentive-based approach should allow for reasonable and defensible flexibility in the hours-of-service rules;
  • Tax incentives should be pursued as a means to facilitate adoption of EOBR systems.
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Even if some of ATA conditions are met, EOBRs won’t be greeted with opening arms by a majority of drivers and owner-operators and many fleets. Questions concerning technology, costs and privacy issues will have to be addressed.

There will probably be legal challenges that could further delay any proposed rule. But in the long run, it looks like EOBRs are going to become a part of the ever-changing trucking vocabulary – a new four-letter word to many unless we’ve guessed wrong.