Hours, EOBRs: Adapt or fight?

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Updated Nov 14, 2012

Dsc 0149My top-challenges feature in this month’s Overdrive edition saw a discussion of the unsettled hours rules and the growing presence (and possible eventual mandate) for electronic logs that was heavy on difference in approach. Some operators, like small fleet owner Thomas Blake, have come to stark conclusions about where things are headed for hours enforcement, biting the bullet to improve his six-truck fleet’s CSA numbers by investing in electronic logging and fleet management technology at no small cost and, as J.J. Keller analyst Thomas Bray put it in the story, learning to “operate in that environment” ahead of most of the competition.

Bray believes the electronic-log mandate is a when-not-if sort of question: “The original Insurance Institute and other petitions [for a mandate] go back to the mid-to-late 1980s. Over the years, it’s slowly picked up steam to where the Congress is involved and it’s not going to reverse it’s course. The writing’s on the wall. It’s been around too long there’s too much momentum built.”

All the same, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, as well as no shortage of member owner-operators and others, continue to resist the move — I’ve written about some of those efforts fairly recently here and here. Bray understands such, of course — noting “there’s a lot to be said” for operators’ objections to, combined with hours changes, the “loss of flexibility and the Big Brother situation – ‘you’re recording everything I’m doing down to such detail…'”

Not to mention that electronic logs don’t by themselves automatically produce compliance with the hours regulations, as many members of the general public, including some members of Congress, seem to want to believe. Frequent Channel 19 commenter E.F. McHenry last month delivered the argument against  EOBRs this way: “EOBRs produce no more compliance with the HOS rules than the paper logs they are meant to replace. Both rely on the integrity of the driver to be true, or not false. Yet they are being peddled in perpetuity as the gold standard of or for compliance. Nothing could be further from that notion. To understand why EOBRs are no better than paper logs you have to think about two components or aspects of work. Most people tend only to think about the amount of work that will be done or performed. Stopping here is what leads many to accept EOBRs as instruments of compliance. But performing work also involves eligibility. Before any kind of work can be done, we also have to consider whether the worker is eligible to do that work. Here are some examples of eligibility restrictions to work: a) Must be a U.S. citizen, b) Must be of age, c) Must be qualified, d) Must be employed or under contract, e) Must be competent, able or certified, etc. To ignore eligibility is to ignore everthing. It would be tempting to just think of the 10hr sleeper or off-duty time necessary before driving, but I’m thinking about something else here. A log is supposed to show or describe or be a representation of work that was legal to do. Right? Well, if that log doesn’t reflect what was allowed to be done legally then it is considered a false or falsified log. It is true that EOBRs can accurately describe or account for how much the truck moved. But an accurate account of how much a truck moved says nothing about whether or not the truck was eligible to move!” You can find more of McHenry’s commentary in the comments on this post.

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In any case,  following find some selections from interviews conducted for the story relative to hours of service (the latest: as expected, both sides of debate of the rule are in court over the issue) and electronic logs.

Don Lacy, safety director with Prime Inc.
We have been 100 percent e-logs for over one year . Some owner-operators left initially and now have returned. The benefits [of electronic logs] far outweigh the negatives. No worries about enforcement, [and e-logs] solve the Fatigued Driving BASIC  score.

And as Lacy is quoted in this month’s issue in this section, “E-logs have ramped up the efficiency in our operations department and eliminated the uncertainties that used to actually contribute to wasted time. Operations, Sales and Owner-Operators are now all on the same page with complete transparency. We have polled our folks numerous times ,and there is no desire to return to paper logs.”

Owner-operator Don Lanier
The mess with the hours of service is like juggling cats — they mess around and mess around and reduce the driving time by one hour, then tell you to drive at rush hour, etc. Those folks obviously never operated a rig through Atlanta or Chicago, with the cars weaving in an out, speeding, crazy drivers. Truck drivers should have the absolute authority to select when it’s safest, when its most proper to operate that vehicle through traffic and to docks. I say no to EOBRs. Ive done a good job logging. And another big no to juggling cats!

Landstar’s Joe Beacom
The BCO accident frequency at Landstar and across the industry continues to improve, yet the demand for change to the hours rules continues. What owner-operators, motor carriers and customers understand, and yet seems to get lost on regulators and those interest groups seeking constant change, are the challenges and significant costs involved in reeducating commercial drivers and support personnel (dispatchers, load planners, etc.) and the reconfiguration by customers of their supply chain when current transit days and times are no longer feasible.

When significant regulatory changes occur, Landstar has the resources and facilities to educate its BCOs, agents, employees and customers…. Landstar uses web-based tutorials, safety meetings across the country and educational sessions offered at company facilities nationwide. 

We believe owner-operators who are opposed to EOBRs are opposed to the mandate for EOBRs and the associated cost of the mandate to their business when this additional cost may not improve the safe operation of their business. Other owner-operators welcome the technology because they believe it brings accuracy and efficiency to their business. Landstar currently offers and accommodates EOBR use for those BCOs who have made the decision to use them as a means to bring efficiency into their business relative to daily log reporting, daily vehicle inspection reporting, fuel tax mileage reporting, status updates, etc. and for BCOs who have demonstrated a need for automation in order to improve timely, accurate submission of HOS information.

Driver advocate Allen Smith
Hours of service [is not a one-size-fits-all problem], and as long as it is treated as such, there will always be disagreements and questionable effectiveness.

The EOBR mandate is a crucial topic, as it represents the mindset of the American people. They are brainwashed into believing that by placing an EOBR on a commercial motor vehicle the following problems will be solved:

  • a) Drivers will be better rested because they will be forced to sleep.
  • b) They no longer will violate their hours.
  • and c) Accidents involving trucks will be eliminated.

Nothing is more far from the truth. Drivers will not be better rested, because the problems that keep them from resting still remain: Lack of adequate truck parking; dispatchers pushing drivers to drive when they say they are either ill or tired; shippers and receivers holding drivers up at the docks for hours, cutting into their rest time; dispatch waking drivers up via Qualcomm, etc., to ask questions, failing to respect and abide by the HOS regulations; retaliation tactics from a carrier if the driver states he or she is too fatigued to drive; etc… 

The devices track only the amount of time the truck is actually moving. But for much of a driver’s “on duty” time, the vehicle is stationary, waiting for a trailer to be loaded or idling at a truck stop. This time still has to be reported manually by the trucker, leaving significant room for error or misreporting. Similarly, EOBRs do nothing to ensure that drivers have had the required hours of off-duty time — all they can verify is how long that particular vehicle was not moving, not how long the individual driver was resting.

EOBRs have little to do with safety, but rather are a way for large trucking companies to level the playing field within the industry, as many already have EOBRs. If EOBRs were mandated, it would keep owner-operators and small fleets “in line,” reducing competition for qualified, well-trained drivers who may go to a carrier who does not have EOBRs.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit tossed the [limited mandate] electronic onboard recorder regulation only to see an expanded version of it in the transportation bill. Drivers need to write and call their Senators and Reps if they do not agree with mandating EOBRs. There are almost 4 million drivers. They have the power to change things, but many just don’t believe it.

Extras from my reporting on top challenge No. 1: Fuel prices, plus a few more tools for your fuel-price-fighting arsenal.