Editor's Journal

Necessary Evil?

EOBRs lack safety justification but may be needed to comply with flawed hours rule


While the trucking industry was still coming to grips with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s recently released hours-of-service proposal, the agency dropped the other shoe. With the mandate for electronic onboard recorders on all interstate trucks (see Special Report, p. 12), the trucking industry faces incredible challenges in the coming years if both proposals, as presented, go into effect.

Randy Grider is editor of Truckers News. He is the son of a career trucker and holds a CDL. Write him at rgrider@rrpub.com.

In truth, EOBRs may be needed to help drivers decipher the hours proposal, but we’re talking complementary, not complimentary. The proposed hours rule is too complex and cumbersome for drivers to maintain compliance without the electronic logging aspects of the EOBR.

A computer-based system to decipher a flawed hours proposal is still a weak justification. The overall intent of EOBRs should be to increase highway safety without a placing an undue financial burden on owner-operators and carriers. This is where the EOBR justification becomes a debatable issue.

Do EOBRs make the highways safer? Since they record location of the truck and when the truck is moving, they should eliminate anyone actually driving beyond the daily and weekly driving limits. In this aspect, EOBRs are unforgiving and will present problems for drivers who are just short of their destination — whether it be home, a shipper or receiver or a place to shut down to rest — when either available drive time elapses or, more likely, they are caught by the closing 14-hour work window.

Most drivers don’t relish the thought of being an hour or less from home and having to shut down for 10 hours. Still, under the letter of the law, that’s what they have to do. The EOBR will record an hours violation if a driver is still in the moving truck beyond the 14-hour window.

While a driver can’t manipulate driving times or stop the 14-hour window once started, the system is hardly foolproof, as he can input whatever duty status he wants when the truck is not moving. Since it requires data input from the driver, it is not better than the paper log in this case if the driver chooses to cheat.

“You can show yourself off-duty when you are really on-duty,” says Marshall Platter, a driver for Stan Koch and Sons Trucking. “I don’t recommend it because you don’t want to drive tired, but you can cheat in that regard.”

Platter, who gave me a personal demonstration of his paperless log system in late 2010, says while he prefers paper logs, he has gotten used to the electronic logs and has found some advantages.

“One positive thing is that it is real time,” Platter says. “If it takes you only seven minutes to top off your fuel, you can record seven minutes and not in 15-minute increments. This can help give you maybe 30 minutes or an hour of available drive time during the week.

“It also only does a split log legal. I’ve been doing this for 35 years, and I thought I knew how to do it, but this does it legal with no doubt.”

Platter also pointed out that duty status can be edited and resubmitted to fix mistakes. He’s also found EOBRs generate efficiency by making the driver have a good plan each day. That’s good for the savvy driver who can use it as a tool to make smarter route planning choices. But on the flip side the fear is, in the quest for greater efficiency, decisions will be taken out of the driver’s hands and fleet managers will dictate to drivers that they need to get back on the road when they feel they need to take a rest break.

Then there is the cost issue. Owner-operators and small fleets may be at a disadvantage to large fleets by having to shell out hundreds of dollars to outfit their trucks in addition to any monthly fees from the service provider. For the owner-operator this is especially true, because he or she won’t be able to get bulk discounts, and the return-on-investment may take a long time to realize.

But the lingering question is still whether EOBRs make the highways safer. We feel EOBRs are only as good as the rule they support, and the proposed hours rule has too many problems that hamper the flexibility trucking needs. And that puts them at odds with the practical world of drivers.


SUBMIT A COMMENT

You have until April 4 to make a comment on the proposed EOBR rule with FMCSA. Go to www.regulations.gov and follow the online comment instructions for Docket Number FMCSA-2010-0167. You can mail comments to: Docket Management Facility, U.S. Department of Transportation, 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE., West Building, Ground Floor, Room W12-140, Washington, DC 20590-0001.

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