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What this country needs is a good $300 electronic log

May 21, 2012

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As the House and Senate try to come to agreement on a highway bill that could include a requirement to mandate electronic onboard recorders, I want to say, I believe we're being taken for a ride on this push to mandate EOBRs.
There's a really big difference between the most basic electronic logging device and the type of EOBR that it looks like the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is trying to shove down our throats.

Before the agency mandates these things, they need take a step back and consider what the vast majority of the people in this country who operate heavy trucks really needs versus what a relative handful of large carriers and few purveyors of such technology say they can deliver.

Only industry can force such a change. Silence is tantamount to approval.

FMCSA's recently vacated Regulation 395.16 is a mega-carrier's wish list, and one that if left unchecked will impose a huge technological burden that the majority of the industry neither want, need, or should be required to pay for.

I should declare my position on electronic logs at this point, so there's no confusion: I see no point in mandating them, because I believe they will not contribute to safety in any additional way than the current HOS rules and paper logs rules do.

HOS requires drivers to declare a minimum number of hours off-duty or in a sleeper before they begin a day's work. Further, the rules prescribe the maximum number of hours a driver may drive in a 24-hour period, and the maximum number of hours a driver may spend on-duty in 7-day period. That's all HOS does. The rules do not require a driver to sleep during the off-duty period, and the rules provide no guarantees that driver will not be sleepy during the workshift due to any number of causes.

Should a driver elect to continue driving while sleepy -- like the driver in the Miami, Okla. crash back in 2009 -- no paper log nor EOBR (he had one in his truck) will make any difference whatsoever.

Yes, EOBRs will make it harder to get away with cheating on the rules. They will also make compliance verification much easier. EOBRs are about compliance, not safety. There's a difference. Just ask the driver in the Miami crash. (Read "When Compliance Doesn't Equal Safety," 10/18/2010)

I don't have a problem with carriers of any size or description using EOBRs for their own purposes. I can see the advantages of not having to store truckloads of log sheets for six months, or having to wade through them and match receipts to the log sheets during an audit. If carriers want to track their drivers' duty status in real time, and don't mind the cost of the telematics and GPS and satellite or cellular time, fine. For those reasons alone, I'm sure EOBRs are well worth the money.

But for a 10- or a 50-truck fleet or a single-truck operation with no need for such functionality, why should they be forced to go along with what a handful of large carriers and the enforcement community has told FMCSA they want?

The Right Tool for the Job

Back in 1988, FMCSA came up with a rule for electronic logging devices -- regulation 395.15. That rule specified relatively simple requirements for devices used to record drivers' duty-status records electronically. That rule laid out the bare minimums for what they called then an Automatic On-Board Recording Devices (AOBRD), or ELD, electronic logging device.

If you haven't already done so, I'd strongly urge you to compare the differences between regulations 395.15 and 395.16. You're in for a heck of a surprise.

Regulation 395.16 was the one the Owner Operators Independent Drivers Association succeeded in having thrown out on grounds that carriers would be able use EOBRs to harass drivers. It's in limbo at the moment. FMCSA says it expects to have a new proposal in place by the end of the year, so here's the small carrier or owner-operator's chance to weigh in.

Here's the issue; the new generation of EOBRs, as defined in 395.16, would go well beyond what's required to comply with the current HOS rules. There is nothing in the current HOS rule that requires a device to transmit time and location data to a terminal at regular intervals. So why is that part of 395.16?

The current HOS rules require a location to be noted at a change of duty status, so the driver can write in the city, town, highway mile marker, etc. to describe his or her location. Reg 396.15 requires a database of information so satellite, cellular or GPS coordinates can be transposed to physical locations.

An EOBR, under 395.16, is way more than is necessary for HOS compliance as described in 395.15. Why do we need all that electronic connectivity and location coding when a driver with a keypad could easily type in a location? Why do we need any connection between a truck and a terminal?

As I said earlier, if a fleet wants to use its satellite or cellular telematics systems in conjunction with an HOS recording device as a fleet management tool, fine. Knock yourself out. But if a fleet doesn't want or need that capability, why should it be required to buy and maintain all that expensive equipment and the monthly connection fees?

Here's what I think is going to happen if this EOBR mandate comes to pass. All the so-called form and manner violations will disappear, along with the "duty status not current" violations. Together, those two violations (395.8 and 395.8F1) accounted for 342,000 citations issued in 2011. They are the top two driver violations recorded by enforcement last year.

If they suddenly disappear, EOBRs will be hailed as the greatest safety breakthrough trucking has ever seen. More like the greatest compliance breakthrough. I maintain not a single life will be spared by an EOBR, but when officials get through spinning it to the public, the politicians and the press, look out. It'll be E-everything from there on in.

The European Model

I think it's only a matter of time before some requirement emerges for electronic HOS recording. I hate to say it, but the tide of public and therefore political opinion is pushing regulators in that direction, so we might as well get used to it.

Hard-coding HOS compliance has been a fact of life in Europe for years. Mostly it was accomplished through pen and ink cards called tachographs that recorded travel times and vehicle speed. HOS compliance was derived from the number of hours the vehicle had been driven in a day.

Today, the same information is recorded in more or less the same manner, except it's now digital rather than physical. Frankly, I believe that's all we need here.

Data is easily checked at roadside. The records are permanent, and can be transferred physically through a USB device, wirelessly, via email, or on the driver's "smartcard," embedded with a chip so it's portable from truck to truck and carrier to carrier, in the case of drivers who work for multiple carriers.

In Europe, location isn't recorded on the tachographs, and when you think about it, it doesn't really need to be. Location was important when inspectors had to get the maps out to measure the distance and time between two duty status changes. On a digital tachograph, it shows a line driving from one point in time to another. It's HOURS of service we're dealing with here, not MILES of service. The day's hours worked are recorded, along with vehicle speed and distance traveled. Drivers note with the press of a button their duty statu

Comments

  1. 1. Curtis [ May 23, 2012 @ 02:14PM ]

    I have to totally agree that it's not about safety..Anyone with half a brain could figure that out..But when you're dealing with safety advocate groups and politicians,you couldn't scrape up a half brain out of the whole group..I just noticed that my company that I'm leased to posted info on EOBR's that are availiable to us now ranging in price from $600 to over $3000 that we have to purchase.When they are mandated and required,no matter the cost,my truck gets parked and either I go to company driver or find another line of work..No EOBR will ever find its way into my truck..

  2. 2. Jim Getten [ May 23, 2012 @ 04:34PM ]

    Why are they regulating the drivers and not the shippers, receivers and carriers? You want compliance? Stop paying by the mile. You want safety? Trust a driver to know their limitations and be responsible. What is happening now is idiocy and is directed by special interests and greed.

  3. 3. E.F.McHenry [ May 23, 2012 @ 08:11PM ]

    Jim Park, your post is very interesting and is true blue in spirit but I find few areas of disagreement. First off large carriers(trucking companies)and law enforcement(FMCSA & state police commercial enforcers)tirelessly obsess about truck movement time&location. For carriers & drivers it's money&productivity. For the law it's the area where they play Gotcha! And thus EOBRs.. Problem is this is a diversion from the ulterior motives of these large companies and their lobby arm, the ATA. Bill Graves president of the ATA is trying to get the FMCSA and Congress to restructure the rules and policies of trucking to give market advantage to their member carriers and do it while providing legal cover for them. This point about legal cover is going unnoticed by everyone including OOIDA. Let me explain. The EOBR proposal is not a stand alone rule. It is being pushed along with a policy change in the retention of supporting documents. The idea here is to craft a syste

  4. 4. Ted Panes [ May 23, 2012 @ 10:32PM ]

    How about, unless the driver/owner of the vehical has been convictied of a crime that includes a federal offence that would include house arrest, Get the H--- out of my business!!!!

  5. 5. Joel Beal [ May 24, 2012 @ 12:40PM ]

    Has the FMCSA isolated themselves from their main objective - Accident Reduction? 395.16 included no oversight as to these units being able to meet all of the 395.16 requirements and standards. The manufactures would “self-certify” that the EOBR unit met these requirements. If EOBRs reduce accidents, FMCSA must have a process which would insure that these units meet FMCSA’s standards.

    For those companies who would manufacture non-compliant EOBRs, FMCSA should take aggressive court action against these manufacturers, instead of forcing motor carriers to bear this burdensome hardship of finding a compliant EOBR. NHTSA will take action against passenger and commercial vehicle manufacturers who put vehicles into the market place which are unsafe and fail to meet their requirements, FMCSA should also follow this road for EOBRs.

  6. 6. Rich Kruml [ May 24, 2012 @ 04:56PM ]

    How about paying well enough to hire real truck drivers rather than schoolboys that have to phone their mommys twice a day, that need 12 hours of sleep per day and really do not know what the hell they are doing behind the wheel then leave them alone to do the only job they are there for...Deliver the freight.

  7. 7. Cody Lehman [ May 25, 2012 @ 08:07AM ]

    Get ahold of your states senators and representatives. Send them messages via facebook, twitter, email, and letter. I have sent multiple messages to various politicians over this highway bill. Find out who to message or send a letter to using this site <a href="http://www.govtrack.us/congress/members" target="_blank">http://www.govtrack.us/congress/members</a>. Voice your opinion, let it be known that you don't want big brother in the industry anymore than it already is. Help us fight these rediculous mandates and regulations, spread the word over the cb. Contact your politicians and keep this from becoming law.

  8. 8. Mike England [ July 20, 2012 @ 08:49PM ]

    (part 1 of 5)

    My first comment is this:
    I've been saying for years that "What the industry needs is a $375 EOBR" - the premise of my comment was that 2001 research revealed several manufacturers who stated they could produce a basic EOBR for that amount.
    Then, after the EOBR reg was published, no one made a pure EOBR. Everyone including the FMCSA is looking at various integrated fleet management systems that may or may not include the simple functionality of an EOBR, and calling it an EOBR, and saying they cost approximately $2,000. It's not really the case.
    I read Mr. Park's comments several days ago, then skimmed his comments again today; he makes an interesting point that you don't really have to know where the truck is to know if it is in motion.
    Maybe this is a brilliant line of reasoning.

  9. 9. Mike England [ July 20, 2012 @ 08:50PM ]

    part 2 of 5

    Drivers always want to cheat for two reasons:
    They want to drive more miles than allowed and they want to drive more hours than allowed.
    If the EOBR rule was modified to remove the location aspect, drivers could still speed like hell and lie about that, or hide it from the DOT, or the DOT could merely change their enforcement model and stop trying to catch people speeding, and this could lead to a compromise that would make the OOIDA happy.
    But, calling a cell phone an EOBR is a little like calling a housecat a grey wolf; it makes no sense at all.
    The only thing a cell phone can do is prepare the log - if you want to download an app you can use it today; it only costs $75 and it takes out all the form and manner issues but does NOT address falsification This is called an Electronic Drivers Log but this is nothing like an EOBR.

  10. 10. Mike England [ July 20, 2012 @ 08:50PM ]

    part 3 of 5

    The whole premise of the EOBR is that is has a built-in verification functionality.
    If you let the driver use a cell phone app and tell it where he is, or whether he is driving or not, you could just as easily be calling home and have your girlfriend fill out your logs for you and you tell her whether you are on duty or not.
    The EOBR has to be tied in to the truck's computer, and the DOT wants it tied to GPS also, as a way to limit falsification
    After all, everyone knows most drivers lie on their logs most of the time right now, right?
    The EOBR is an idea that is intended to put a stop to that.
    This conversation is a very interesting one, and I intend to read and reread everyone's remarks.
    I want to be very clear about something; I MAY disagree with some of the comments that have been made by others, and I MAY be wrong in some of my opinions.

  11. 11. Mike England [ July 20, 2012 @ 08:51PM ]

    part 4 of 5

    I might deliberately overstate a position to make a point or to be funny, but I never want to come off as being haughty; I do NOT believe I am necessarily smarter or more well-informed than anyone else. That said, I do have a well-thought out and well-informed opinion, which is subject to change.
    The reason I make this statement is, sometimes when there are exchanges of information and opinions, a couple people start sniping at one another and the last thing I want to do is start one of those stupid arguments. As soon as I say I disagree with someone else, I want to say that I am also considering each viewpoint and opinion that is posted here.
    One final caveat: I did say &ldquo;Drivers lie on logs&rdquo; and &ldquo;drivers want to cheat on hours and miles&rdquo; but I don&rsquo;t want to get in some obnoxious tit-for-tat discussion on the topic.

  12. 12. Mike England [ July 20, 2012 @ 08:51PM ]

    part 5 of 5

    There are a lot of holocaust deniers in the world, and there are those who believe drivers don&rsquo;t lie on their logs. They should all be committed. We have to face the problem before we can fix it. Drivers are incentivized to lie on their logs, and it is NOT the driver&rsquo;s fault. We have a great system but it is flawed and can be improved.
    Since it is so easy for a driver to become a motor carrier, everything I said about drivers can also be said about motor carriers; a lot of carriers have nothing to lose and are immoderate in the degree of document falsification and other DOT violations. Most don&rsquo;t know the first thing about risk management or mitigation; they just want to gripe about &lsquo;government controls&rsquo; and imply that safety regs are meaningless or useless and they should be allowed to do whatever the hell they want.

    I hope this conversation continues; there are a lot of different ways of looking at the situation.
    -Just my 2

  13. 13. E.F.McHenry [ May 26, 2012 @ 06:10AM ]

    Very important point. Drivers really need to take that next step and call the senators and especially the congressmen, since they're more likely to oppose the EOBR mandate. The FMCSA and American Trucking Association is hoping to ram through the EOBR&amp;sleep apnea testing mandate before resistance builds against it....

  14. 14. Lance Williams [ February 27, 2014 @ 07:25AM ]

    I am a sales person with a HOS software company who has been providing solutions for 20 years. We have a new product coming out in May that really is exactly what you describe. Would it be OK to talk about it here? Please email me with your response.

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Author Bio

Jim Park

Equipment Editor

Truck journalist 13 years, commercial driver 20 years. Joined us in 2007. Specializes in technical/equipment material (including Tire Report), brings real-world perspective to test drives.

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