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May 2, 2007 8:15 AM, EDT

FMCSA’s Recorder Proposal Draws Concern, Criticism

By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter

This story appears in the April 30 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

A wide range of trucking associations, carriers, law enforcement agencies and other groups told the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration its electronic onboard recorder proposal was either too weak or too far-reaching.

Several groups suggested in comments that FMCSA should do more to encourage EOBR use and continue examining the safety benefits of the technology.

Announced earlier this year, the rule would mandate EOBRs for the worst violators of its hours-of-service rules, and provide incentives in the form of relaxed recordkeeping requirements for carriers who adopt them voluntarily (1-15, p. 1).

With the comment period now over, FMCSA will review them before issuing a final proposal, a process that can take as long as 18 months.

“Given that FMCSA does not have the benefit and cost data sufficient to support an overall mandate, ATA generally supports the agency’s policy approach to provide incentives to drive voluntary adoption of EOBRs, with mandates limited to targeted enforcement against noncompliant carriers and drivers,” American Trucking Associations said.

However, ATA said the agency “must make important changes,” to the proposal, including increasing incentives for voluntary adoption, bolstering the technology standards and implementing an EOBR pilot test before going forward.

Similarly, the Truckload Carriers Association said it had “continued concerns over the practicality of using EOBRs as a tool to increase safety fitness of the trucking industry without further exploration and research of this technology.”

In its comments, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association questioned whether EOBRs would have an appreciable effect on safety and improvement of HOS compliance.

“EOBRs are no more a reliable or accurate record of a driver’s compliance with the hours-of-service rules than paper logs,” OOIDA asserted. “There remains no rational basis for the economic burden and the unreasonable imposition on personal privacy proposed by this rule.”

Several large carriers said FMCSA should have mandated the use of EOBRs for all trucks.

Truckload carrier J.B. Hunt Transport Services said it “strongly believes that EOBR technology should have been mandated across the board.”

Hunt also said FMCSA should do more to encourage EOBR use as a positive, rather than a punishment, “otherwise a bad environment could develop for voluntary companies if a general perception in the enforcement community develops that companies with EOBRs are bad companies.”

J.B. Hunt ranks No. 10 on the Transport Topics 100 list of the largest U.S. and Canadian for-hire carriers.

Flatbed carrier Maverick Transportation, No. 100 on the TT list, said FMCSA “missed the boat” by not mandating the technology for all carriers, or by not providing more far-reaching incentives, like greater flexibility in the use of sleeper berths.

The Teamsters union told FMCSA it “strongly opposes” the proposal because “there is no comprehensive data that establish the safety benefits of the use of EOBRs,” and using the devices “will increase driver stress and fatigue.”

It also would encourage fleets to use data from EOBRs to pressure drivers to drive faster and take shorter stops, the Teamsters said.

The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance said it thought the proposal “will do little to help deploy EOBRs in large quantities.”

“Most carriers will view this as a cost item and a legal liability that will put them at a competitive disadvantage with their peers, therefore making them reluctant to voluntarily invest in these devices,” CVSA said.

The Maryland State Police told FMCSA that mandating EOBRs for habitual offenders of the HOS rules “will bring them into compliance only if there are

follow-up actions taken when the remedial directive is not followed precisely and in total compliance. Without strict actions being taken for violations of the directive, this would be nothing more than another regulation ‘on the books.’ ”

The rule also faced withering criticism from safety advocacy groups.

“The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has once again failed to propose making installation of these devices mandatory, delaying the potential for these devices to fundamentally change the face of motor carrier safety,” Public Citizen said. “Mandatory installation of these devices is indispensable to the safety of every driver on the road.”

“The proposed rule, if adopted, not only does not advance motor carrier safety, but, in fact, further undermines the safety of commercial motor vehicles in interstate commerce in excess of the harm done by the agency’s current HOS regulation,” Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety said.

“It is not supported — indeed it is contradicted — by the administrative record of HOS and EOBR rulemaking; it violates FMCSA’s statutory safety mission and it would not withstand judicial scrutiny.”

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety said that if the rule goes forward without a mandate it “will become another failed effort to reduce the serious problem of truck driver fatigue.”

EOBRs also were a topic of discussion during a recent Senate subcommittee hearing on highway safety.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Mark Rosenker said the board supported the adoption of EOBRs by trucks and buses because the devices will provide “a more honest picture of what the drivers are doing.”

“Fatigue has played too great a role in motor coach and truck accidents that we’ve investigated,” he said, calling the equipment “a fail-safe device.”

(Click here for previous coverage.)