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EOBRs donÂ’t work for everyone

Created: Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 10:01 am

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is proposing a rule requiring Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBR) be installed in commercial vehicles that travel long distances. All companies should not be required to have electronic on-board recorders in every commercial motor vehicle because it will hurt small businesses.This new intrusive regulation will place a financial burden on smaller companies.

Hours of service regulations apply to all people driving a vehicle for the purpose of interstate commerce. The FMCSA placed a limit on the amount of hours drivers could drive in 2005. Commercial vehicle operators are allowed to work fourteen hours in a day (Hours of Service of Drivers, 2005). Out of the fourteen hours, professional drivers are only allowed to drive for eleven hours (Hours of Service of Drivers, 2005). If unforeseen events such as bad weather occur, drivers are allowed to work a total of sixteen hours a day once a week(Hours of Service of Drivers, 2005). Drivers can either work sixty hours in seven days or seventy hours in eight days, however, after these times drivers are required to have at least thirty four hours off duty before they can resume working (Hours of Serviceof Drivers, 2005). Regulations to restrict hours of service have been in effect since 1937, however the way that drivers record their duty status might be getting an update for the digital era. 

In addition to being limited on the number of hours that truck drivers can drive, drivers must also create a Record of Duty Status (RODS) when they travel long distances (Hours of Service of Drivers, 2005). Currently, drivers whose vehicles are not equipped with EOBRs must track their duty status with the use of a paper grid log. A driver would complete one log for each twenty four hour period regardless if they are driving or not. There is another alternative to the manual RODS, which is an Electronic Onboard Recorder.

EOBR are nicknamed “tattlers” by many drivers, and their purpose is to automate a driver’s grid log. The FMCSA currently has regulation in place that dictates some aspects of EOBRs. Electronic Onboard Recording devices must have the same identifiable information that is found on a driver’s grid log. Information such as the names of the driver and co driver, duty status, date, time, and location must be recorded with the EOBR. Companies have the option to use ‘tattlers’ in their trucks, but if the purposed regulatory changes go into effect, the current system of hand written logs will become a thing of the past. 

Currently drivers can track their duty status using a grid log, which is essentially a hand written form that shows the drivers RODS(figure 1). During an inspection of these records investigators will comparethe hand written logs to other records such as fuel receipts (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 2008). The current method of recording a drivers duty status is subject to abuse, and that is why the FMCSA wants to make RODS more tamper proof. 

Safety is the number one goal of the EOBR mandate according to the FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration , 2011).According to FMCSA reports, fatigue was a factor in 1.6 percent of all commercial truck accidents (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, 2008). Some people in the industry are questioning the motives behind the FMCSA’s push for EOBRs because there has been a reduction in fatal crashes(Miller, 2011). Independent studies estimate that fatigue has a causal factor in only 2.1 percent of accidents (Jarossi, Matteson, & Woodrooffe, 2010). Since2005, fatal crashes involving commercial vehicles have decreased, but some industry leaders feel the regulation changes are necessary(National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2009). 

Schneider National, Maverick USA, J.B. Hunt Transport, Knight Transportation, and U.S. Xpress Enterprises have joined together to create an organization called the Alliance for Driver Safety&Security(Miller, 2011).The companies that make up this group use EOBRs, which could give them a competitive edge if the proposed rules go into effect(Cassidy, 2011). The companies that make up the “Alliance for Driver Safety&Security” are some of the largest in the nation and don’t represent the average company that would have to meet this regulatory change or face stiff penalties (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration , 2011). 

Another reason for the EOBR requirement is that there are some in the trucking industry who fail to comply with the regulations and the FMCSA believes this causes accidents and deaths (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration , 2011). In its Notice of Proposed Rule Making, the FMCSA cites “non-compliance” with the hours of service rules as the reason for changing the rules, but they don’t state just how big the problem of non-compliance is (2011). EOBRs have been proven to reduce Hours of Service (HOS) violations by a decent amount, but companies that have no HOS violations should not be required to have these devices installed on their trucks (Cantor, Corsi, & Grimm, 2009). The FMCSA’s attempt to bring the trucking industry into the twenty first century might come with a rather high price tag. 

Nothing in life is free, and the same goes for the numerous vehicles that will have to be retro-fitted for new on-board recorders. The price tag for a brand new EOBR and installation ranges from $1,500 to as much as $2,000 per vehicle, and the annual service fees that would be collected could be as much as $785 a year for just one vehicle (Miller, 2011). The government feels that the increased expense is just a small percentage compared to the estimated $172,000 in annual revenue that a single truck or power unit can produce (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration , 2011). An initial cost of $2,000 and an annual expense of $785 would be a minuscule expense if trucking companies didn’t operate on minuscule profit margins. 

It is estimated that the average profit margin in the trucking industry is roughly one percent(First Research, 2011). If one power unit can produce $172,000 in annual revenue then the profit that is made from that truck is only $1,720 (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration , 2011). At a one percent profit margin a company would need to generate an additional $78,500 in revenue to make up for the cost of the estimated $785 annual service expense(Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration , 2011). With this profit margin, acompany would need to generate between $150,000 and $200,000 in additional revenue to cover the initial cost of installation(Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration , 2011). In total, one power unit would have to create as much as $278,500 in additional revenue to make up for the $2,785 in potential cost that the new EOBR requirements would bring, however the initial costs are small compared to the proposed cost of non-compliance. 

For the companies that would violate the EOBR requirement the FMCSA could impose a civil penalty of as much as $11,000 (Miller, 2011). The government acknowledges that the proposed regulation will have a negative effect on the economy of $100 million (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration , 2011). The $100 million economic burden of this regulation will be shared primarily by small businesses that make up ninety-six percent of the industry (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration , 2011) . In its current state, the government’s solution for the problem of safety and compliance is unjust and needs to be revised.

Requiring that Electronic On-Board Recorders be installed on all commercial motor vehicles is a solution that treats habitual log book offenders and honest compliant companies the same, which places an undue burden on those in the trucking industry who play by the rules. For many companies, safety is the number one priority and the proposed rule making reflects that concern, however, extreme measures would be taken to ensure that companies are following the rules. Increasing compliance also must be taken into consideration when determining an alternative solution to the FMCSAs proposal. There are several ways to achieve the FMCSA’s goal of increasing safety and compliance.

Some supervisors and truck drivers alike find it more beneficial to break the rules then to follow them.The fines for violating hazardous materials regulations can be as much as $50,000 per incident, and if drivers and companies faced these kind of fines for hours of service violations, their occurrence would be far less (Penalty schedule; violations and maximum civil penalties, 2007). Currently if a driver receives an out of service order from an office it equates to the driver being put in “time out” several hours before the driver is allowed to continue. If drivers who violated the hours of service rules would receive the same amount of points off of their license as they would for driving under the influence, many more drivers would refrain from log book violations. These are two solutions that would achieve both of the goals without punishing compliant companies and drivers.

The best solution to the problem of Hours of Services violations is to charge companies $50,000 if their drivers violate HOS regulations. Additionally companies should be allowed a reasonable amount of time to pay the hefty fine, or risk being put out of business. Still, drivers who break the HOS rules should be punished with having points taken off their license. To a truck driver their Commercial Driver License (CDL) is their meal ticket. If hours of service violations could actually take a driver’s CDL away, then the consequences of a violation would far outweigh the benefits. Companies and drivers would need time to adjust to the changes in these regulations, so these changes would not be able to occur over night. 

If the trucking industry was to be held to these new higher standards there would need to be a grace period to allow the information to get out and to implement training. The proposed EOBR requirement has an implementation date that is two years after it is signed into law, which is to allow countless vehicles to be retro fitted with new equipment (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration , 2011). If companies did not have to plan for the added expense of installing an expensive EOBR, the implementation time of this proposed plan would be cut in half. Punish the bad behavior of Hours of Service violation, instead of punishing all behavior with an EOBR requirement.

In summation, requiring every trucking company to use Electronic On-Board Recorders hurts everyone who is in compliance with the current regulations. Companies would have to generate too much additional revenue to cover the added expense of installation and service of these gadgets. The more practical solution is to hit companies with stiff penalties if their drivers break the law. Drivers should be held accountable and have as much to lose as their employers if they do not comply, so log book violations should mean drivers could have their CDL taken away. Over regulating honest and compliant drivers and companies will do nothing but hurt the trucking industry.

EOBRs donÂ’t work for everyone

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

¬The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is proposing a rule requiring Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBR) be installed in commercial vehicles that travel long distances.

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