April 12, 2010 3:30 AM, EDT

U.S. Issues Final EOBR Rule

Program to Affect More Fleets
By Sean McNally, Senior Reporter

This story appears in the April 12 print edition of Transport Topics.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration last week issued a rule that could require as many as 5,700 trucking fleets to use electronic onboard recorders to monitor drivers’ hours by lowering the threshold for violations that trigger the EOBR mandate.

Under the Bush administration’s 2007 proposal, an estimated 900 carriers would have been required to use EOBRs.

FMCSA’s rule, while significantly broader than the 2007 proposal, stops short of requiring all trucks to have recorders to keep track of how long drivers are behind the wheel.

However, FMCSA Administrator Anne Ferro stated the agency “will initiate a rulemaking later this year that considers an EOBR mandate for a broader population of commercial motor carriers.”

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said April 2 that the rule “gives us another tool to enforce hours-of-service restrictions on drivers who attempt to get around the rules,” but some critics said that it doesn’t go far enough. Trucking industry critics and some members of Congress have been pushing FMCSA to require all fleets to use EOBRs.

American Trucking Associations called the rule “a good example of the important role of technology in enhancing driver, vehicle and highway safety,” but ATA’s chief safety official expressed concerns about portions of the rule.

Jacqueline Gillan, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said, “This rule is clearly insufficient.”

She said that the future EOBR rule “must result in a universal mandate — no exceptions, no exemptions and no excuses.”

Gillan also said the 2012 effective date of the current rule “must be accelerated and not include an unnecessarily drawn out phase-in schedule.”

“Generally speaking, we’re supportive of the fact that they actually got a rule out, but frankly we don’t think it goes far enough,” said Steve Keppler, interim executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

The final rule, which takes effect in June 2012, requires carriers that have a violation rate of 10% or higher for any HOS-related violation during a compliance review to install EOBRs on their trucks to monitor driver hours.

For example, if FMCSA investigators examine 100 driver logs, and 11 of them show the driver violated the hours-of-service restrictions, that carrier would have an 11% HOS violation rate and would be required to use EOBRs on its vehicles.

The 10% threshold is a change from FMCSA’s 2007 proposal, which would have required EOBRs for fleets with a 10% violation rate in two compliance reviews in a two-year period.

FMCSA said the regulation goes into effect this June, but fleets have until June 2012 to comply with the regulation. Once the rule is fully implemented, most affected carriers will have 60 days to install the devices. If the fleet hauls hazardous materials, however, it will have only 45 days to comply.

Fleets that fail to comply will be prohibited from operating.

The two-year effective date allows for manufacturers of the devices to meet the technical specifications that are also laid out in the rule (see story, same page).

FMCSA indicated it may target carriers of hazardous materials and new entrants for mandatory EOBR use in the new proposal later this year.

Dave Osiecki, ATA’s senior vice president of policy and regulatory affairs, said of the one compliance review trigger, “The question is whether or not that’s appropriate.”

FMCSA said carriers that have a 10% or greater violation rate in one review “have a 40% higher crash rate” than the average carrier. Carriers with two reviews with a violation rate at least 10% have a 90% higher crash rate, the agency said.

The rule also offers regulatory relief for carriers to voluntarily adopt EOBR technology by relaxing some of the requirements to retain evidence supporting their hours-of-service compliance.

Osiecki told Transport Topics that the incentives weren’t sufficient to get carriers to adopt EOBRs voluntarily, and that the federation’s “level of disappointment is pretty high.”

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said EOBRs are “a record-keeping tool, not a safety device,” that really can’t be cost-justified for smaller carriers.

Osiecki said that even if FMCSA’s follow-up EOBR rule is limited, the agency probably will publish a requirement for all trucks to use the technology.

“They started with a mini-mandate and they appear to be moving toward a broader mandate based upon certain types of operations, and it seems clear to us that whether it is driven by just a regulation or legislation followed by regulation, a universal mandate for all trucks is coming,” Osiecki said.

Some fleets already use so-called automatic onboard recording devices, but except in very limited circumstances, those are not accepted by enforcement officials in lieu of paper logbooks.