Opinion: The Upside of the EOBR Proposal

Click here to write a Letter to the Editor.
By John LewisChief Executive OfficerGeoLogic SolutionsThe Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s recently proposed rule mandating the use of electronic onboard recorders for habitual violators of federal hours-of-service regulations has set in motion an industrywide discussion about the plan’s merits.But for North American motor carriers, the focus on EOBRs is much more than just an implementation and enforcement challenge. It’s also an opportunity to take a fresh look at how this type of highly advanced technology can enhance and improve fleet operations.While most, if not all, over-the-road trucking operations already are realizing the efficiency and productivity benefits of onboard tracking and messaging systems, the merits and operational advantages of automated driver logs may not be as well known. FMCSA has said it will offer incentives for voluntary use of EOBRs by motor carriers in the form of regulatory relief from certain record-keeping requirements, but the advantages for fleets go beyond that.For drivers, automated record keeping can be highly favorable. With EOBRs, drivers use a simple interface to log on to the system and record changes in duty status. The system then does the rest, automatically and accurately recording driving and nondriving time.There can be several advantages to EOBRs for motor carriers as well. Take into account the possibility for improved driver satisfaction and retention, and greater productivity for dispatchers and administrative staff from streamlined record-keeping processes.Automated logs, used as a part of any onboard tracking and messaging system, give dispatchers a current and accurate picture of driver real-time availability, which can be a distinct advantage in load planning and resource allocation. Adding EOBR capabilities to onboard communication and tracking systems enables effective reassignment of drivers and tractors — increasing profitability by using the maximum on-duty hours allowed under the new hours-of-service regulations for revenue-generating activity.The operational benefits of knowing driver and vehicle availability in real time also include more effective forecasting and dispatching, enhanced vehicle utilization and an increase in driver and dispatcher productivity. With accurate hours-of-service information, dispatchers have immediate access to reports on driver status, and the systems can be configured to issue warnings and alerts when violation thresholds are being approached or exceeded.This streamlining of operations can have an inherent customer service benefit. The industry’s mobile communications and tracking system providers have expressed mostly support for FMCSA’s EOBR proposal, which allows them to offer fleet customers new opportunities to explore ways to enhance and streamline their operations and improve their profitability.This position is in line with the support offered by several trucking industry groups that generally back the plan to require mandatory use of EOBRs by “motor carriers that have demonstrated a history of serious noncompliance with HOS rules.”When American Trucking Associations announced its support for the FMCSA proposal on EOBRs, it noted yet another benefit of the technology — improved highway safety. As stated by ATA President Bill Graves, “We support this incentive-based approach to the use of electronic onboard recorders. Technology can play a significant role in enhancing road safety and help to ensure the reliability of commercial vehicle operation.”For trucking companies that already operate safely and in compliance with HOS and other regulations, the voluntary use of EOBRs offers benefits such as the opportunity to lower costs, increase revenue and enhance profitability.With or without incentives, voluntarily or under a mandate, the proposed EOBR rule serves as a compelling reason to consider what the application of this onboard technology can do for an operation.Onboard mobile communications and management systems have become one of the most vital fleet management tools in the transportation industry today. Thousands of companies of all types and sizes now routinely track and manage nearly every aspect of their fleets’ activities.And they have some very good reasons to do so. The payback fleets can expect to receive from deploying onboard systems is generated by the ability to better control and manage operations, and increase profitability through productivity and efficiency gains.The benefits of EOBRs make determining a favorable return on investment in this technology fairly simple. Like any application of technology, though, their use would benefit some companies and not be of value to others.Even though a final mandate on EOBRs is not a certainty — and, in any event, would likely be several years from being implemented — what should come out of the industrywide discussion of the merits of FMCSA’s proposed rule is that it’s a fresh reason to take a fresh look at this technology and make an informed decision for the future.Based in Herndon, Va., GeoLogic Solutions provides the commercial trucking industry with wireless onboard fleet management services that use both satellite and cellular networks.This opinion piece appears in the March 19 print edition of Transport Topics. Subscribe today.