The black box debate intensifies with hours-of-service reform announcement
While mandatory installation of black boxes in trucks is on the government's "Most Wanted" list, OOIDA is locked and loaded in solid opposition to placing truckers under electronic surveillance.

April 11, 2000

Dear Mr. Johnston:

I am writing concerning the recent public discussions about on-board recorders, as well as Freightliner's decision to install data logging units on its vehicles. The National Transportation Safety Board has supported the use of on-board recording devices in the trucking industry for several years. Although our initial focus was on the use of recording systems to identify commercial truckdrivers who exceeded the hours-of-service regulations, more recently, we have endorsed their use in accident investigations as well.

In 1990, the Safety Board recommended that the Federal Highway Administration require on-board recording devices to identify commercial truckdrivers who exceed hours-of-service regulations. This was a result of a Safety Board study that focused on the serious safety issue of driver fatigue. A separate set of recommendations on this subject was issued in 1998 as a result of a highway accident in Slinger, WI. At that time, the Safety Board recommended that your organization, as well as the Independent Truckers and Drivers Association and the National Private Truck Council, advise members to equip their vehicle fleets with on-board recording devices to identify information concerning both driver and vehicle operating characteristics. Although the recommendations address the use of on-board recording devices to identify drivers who exceed hours-of-service regulations, they also advocate the use of this technology to sense and record vehicle data that will help us determine the dynamics of vehicle accidents.

Accident investigations in other modes of transportation have long benefited from the availability of recorded information. Not only can recorded information provide crucial data for an accident investigation, but it can also be used to identify safety trends and develop corrective actions. The Safety Board is disappointed at the lack of progress on this issue by the trucking industry. However, we are encouraged by Freightliner's announcement to install data logging units as standard equipment on its Century Class S/T highway truck and to provide the units for its other trucks. This data logging unit will not record anything during normal operating conditions. Instead, it records vehicle operating parameters both prior to and after such an event occurs. If an incident occurs that is not outside of normal operating conditions and is not automatically recorded, the driver can manually select recording by pushing a button.

Other on-board systems, such as an engine's electronic control module (ECM), may also record information, primarily to be used for maintenance and diagnostic purposes. These devices provide management with a valuable tool for driver and vehicle operations oversight, and many operators take advantage of this benefit. Depending on the data recorded, ECMs have assisted Safety Board investigators by supporting eyewitness accounts and supplying critical vehicle operational data. As valuable as information from these systems has been, it is not intended for accident investigation purposes and does not provide key data about the driver or vehicle prior to and during an accident. Of course, neither Freightliner's data logging unit nor any of these other on-board systems are designed to identify drivers who exceed hours-of-service regulations.

The Safety Board recognizes that privacy issues exist with respect to the use of recorded information. As a result, this will be one of the subjects covered at the Safety Board's symposium on "Transportation Safety and the Law" on April 25-26, in Arlington, Virginia. The enclosed brochure outlines the topics to be discussed. I hope that this forum will provide an opportunity for an open discussion about the concerns of all transportation modes regarding the use of recorded information.

I believe Freightliner's proactive decision, to install technology in its trucks that has significant safety benefits, is a step in the right direction. The Safety Board will continue to advocate the use of on-board recording devices, both to monitor hours-of-service violations and to capture valuable vehicle data for use in accident investigations. This issue is on the Safety Board's list of Most Wanted Transportation Safety Improvements and it will remain there until the Board is convinced that adequate action has been taken by the regulatory authorities and the trucking industry. Your organization makes important contributions to the trucking industry; I hope that you and your members will make one more - by supporting the use of on-board recording devices.

Jim Hall
Chairman, National Transportation Safety Board


April 17, 2000

Dear Chairman Hall:

Thank you for your letter of April 11. As I am sure you are aware from our previous correspondence (see enclosed copies), OOIDA is adamantly opposed to any form of electronic surveillance of professional truckdrivers. We are particularly opposed to the use of such systems for the purposes of law enforcement.

We see the system that NTSB wishes to impose on honest, hard working, professional truckers as a clear violation of their privacy and their constitutional rights. Considering that even the use of these types of tactics against convicted, or suspected felons would require a court order, it is difficult for me to imagine how NTSB could persist with this policy.

I won't repeat here all of my previous objections (see enclosures), but I do think it is important to point out one additional concern. That is the escalating impact on the morale and self-esteem of professional drivers created by more and more regulations, requirements, and overzealous, unwarranted enforcement tactics that send them the clear signal that they are considered untrustworthy members of society. This industry has a tremendous driver shortage problem. A primary cause of course, is low pay, overwork, and excessive time away from home and family. A less often recognized, but I feel equally important factor, is the rapidly diminishing feeling of self-esteem associated with the occupation.

Random drug testing is a good current example. Millions of truckdrivers are subjected, on a constant basis, to the humiliating and degrading process of proving that they are not drug users. This, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. To add injury to insult, our members are forced to pay the cost themselves, both in dollars and in lost time. There are much less intrusive, and costly ways to effectively identify problem drug users than the current system. In all the time this requirement has been in place, I have not seen one shred of evidence that it has prevented any accidents or had any noticeable effect on National Accident Statistics.

The same will be true if the government succeeds in mandating electronic surveillance systems. The only result will be the loss of additional rights and increased costs. We will also see many more good professional drivers exit the industry. And who will they be replaced by? You need only read the recent industry trade publications to see the diminishing standards of motor carriers desperately seeking warm bodies to fill vacant driver seats - younger drivers, foreign drivers and even convicted felons. All of this with still no mandatory training requirements in place! I submit that as hiring standards continue to decline, no amount of enforcement or electronic surveillance will be enough to keep our highways safe.

In regard to event recorders, while less adamant, we are still opposed to these systems unless, and until, they are simultaneously required on all vehicles and not just trucks. It really doesn't take much imagination to envision a trial attorney obtaining a million dollar jury award against a trucker who made some type of error, even though the primary cause of the accident may have been an unrecorded action on the part of the other driver. It is a well-known fact that the vast majority of car/truck accidents are not caused by the truckdriver. But again, the trucker is being asked to pick up the cost of expensive systems that may or may not produce any noticeable return in improved safety and will certainly produce potential new liability exposure.

Considering the obstacle course, professional truckers are able to safely maneuver every working day of their lives while under constant pressure from shippers, dispatchers, and other untold influences. We really should be showering them with praise instead of treating them as untrustworthy, second class citizens. It really is time to stop hammering these people and start finding the ways to help them. If this industry continues to lose good professional drivers at the rate we are today, the industry and highway safety will be the ultimate loser.

Jim Johnston
President, Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association