Fed Up: The Federal Update
Long on Big Brother
OOIDA officials say the proposed implementation of EOBRs on the industry's worst HOS offenders does little to address the real reasons drivers violate the regs

By Jami Jones
senior editor

OOIDA officials say a proposal to require electronic on-board recorders on some trucks is a misdirected attempt to deal with the root causes of hours-of-service violations.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration unveiled its “notice of proposed rulemaking” on the use of EOBRs at a press conference Jan. 11.

During the press conference, FMCSA Administrator John Hill outlined the agency’s proposal, which includes mandatory use of EOBRs for motor carriers “that have demonstrated a history of serious non-compliance with the hours-of-service rules.”

“The FMCSA’s solution to hours-of-service enforcement goes long on Big Brother and short on the real issue. FMCSA continues to ignore the inescapable fact that such devices are no more capable than paper logs in providing an accurate record of a driver’s compliance with the hours-of-service rules,” OOIDA Executive President Todd Spencer said.

OOIDA officials have a different idea than FMCSA about the reasons behind driver fatigue. The real issue is not the time spent behind the wheel driving, which is the time that can be monitored by recorders. It’s the 30 to 40 or more hours drivers spend each week on loading and unloading docks that will not be captured by these devices that is the issue.

Drivers who are almost always paid only for miles driven, have no ability to change “this colossal waste of their time,” according to OOIDA officials. And, shippers, receivers and carriers have little or no incentive to address this waste since it costs them nothing – and it can even be a profit center for some.

“It will still do nothing to assist drivers to comply with HOS regulations while they are still being economically threatened by motor carriers, shippers and receivers,” Spencer said.

According to the proposed regulation, if FMCSA officials determine – based on HOS records reviewed during each of two compliance reviews conducted within a two-year period – that a motor carrier had a 10 percent or greater violation rate, the carrier would be mandated to use EOBRs for two years.

All of the trucks owned and leased to the motor carrier mandated to use EOBRs would be required to have EOBRs installed, according to the proposed reg. The only way an owner-operator with an impeccable driving record, who is leased to a company mandated by FMCSA to use EOBRs, could prevent having the “black box” installed would be to leave the motor carrier.

The proposed regulation also tackles the technology of EOBRs. FMCSA officials have proposed that the EOBRs:

  • Be able to identify individual drivers;
  • Be tamper resistant;
  • Conduct self-tests and self-monitoring;
  • Be able to produce records for audit; and, among other things
  • Include GPS tracking of trucks at one-minute intervals.

“As long as an EOBR records only the movement of a truck, and requires a driver to manually input his or her on-duty not driving time, it will fail to be what EOBR supporters wish them to be – a tamper-proof record of HOS compliance,” said Rick Craig, OOIDA’s director of regulatory affairs.

In addition to mandating the use of EOBRs for motor carriers with patterns of noncompliance, the proposed regulation offers incentives for motor carriers that voluntarily use EOBRs.

Some of the incentives mentioned in the proposed regulation include:

  • Revising FMCSA’s compliance review procedures to permit examination of a random sample of records-of-duty status;
  • Providing partial relief from HOS supporting documents requirements if certain conditions are satisfied; and
  • “Other potential incentives made possible by the inherent safety and driver health benefits of EOBR technology.”

“Given the clearly demonstrated shortcomings of EOBRs, it is astounding that FMCSA would consider economic incentives to encourage motor carriers to buy this technology while providing zero incentive or support to professional drivers squeezed in the economic/regulatory vise,” Craig said.

The proposed regulation would not only apply to U.S.-domiciled carriers, but also to foreign-domiciled carriers subject to compliance reviews by FMCSA – which at this point is just Canadian trucking companies. If the border is opened to Mexican-domiciled carriers, those carriers would also be subject to the EOBR regulation, if it is adopted.

At press time, the proposed regulation was scheduled to be printed Jan. 18 in the Federal Register. Upon publication, a 90-day comment period began.

After the press conference, Hill told Land Line that after the close of the 90-day comment period, FMCSA staffers will review all of the comments and a few different things could happen: The agency could issue a supplemental notice seeking more comments, or issue a final rule.

Hill said that the agency anticipates having a final EOBR regulation sometime in the next 18 months to two years.