On the Road

When Minutes Count

June 20, 2013

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Whether it's time at a truck show or the family campsite, drivers' families need them home on special days.
Whether it's time at a truck show or the family campsite, drivers' families need them home on special days.

Could someone please explain how electronic on-board recorders/electronic logging devices might work to the drivers' advantage? With the new HOS rules just over a week away, and FMCSA's proposed EOBR/ELD rule bubbling up through the regulatory morass in Washington, I can see drivers spending a lot more time away from home -- with no extra compensation.

A few weeks ago I got an email from a driver who'd been pinched in a logbook blitz a few hours from where he lived. He and legions of other drivers were on their way home for the Memorial Day long weekend. Cottages scheduled to be opened, boats ready for the waves, campsites booked, and kids -- lots of kids -- expecting Daddy home for the fun.

But Daddy had been put out of service at a scale southern Michigan.

DOT officers were diligently digging their way through fuel receipts and other bits of evidence to uncover the ugly truth: drivers were cheating on their logs in order to get home for the weekend.

So, as a responsible editor, I wrote back to the driver, explaining that DOT/CVSA has a duty to keep the roads safe for all users, and that turning a blind eye to HOS compliance wasn't a good idea at any time, even if a lot of holiday plans hung in the balance.

That was the official response. Of course my true feelings rested with the driver and his mighty unhappy offspring. I've been there too, and truthfully, would be reluctant to let something like a logbook stand in the way of my vacation plans. 

When you're under pressure -- whether it's the cops, the boss, or the kids -- most of us will weigh the likelihood of getting caught against the wrath yet to be incurred for failing to deliver.

It's not enough to simply say to a driver -- and by extension, his or her family -- "you lose" when something out of the ordinary threatens to wreck long-made plans.

A one-hour delay on a Monday can compromise an entire week's work, what with missed appointments, altered schedules, limited windows of opportunity, etc. A driver who makes minor but necessary adjustments to the logbook isn't the biggest problem here. It's rules that are written for some hard-wired interpretation that enforcement people can use, and later, lawyers can use against us.

A few stolen minutes here and there don't make a driver a threat to society. And neither do the administrative violations. An owner-operator who greases the truck on a day off, but fails to log it on-duty, is not a safety risk. But it's a violation. Period.

Fudging the logbook isn't always about gaining some competitive advantage -- though I'll admit those guys are out there. The violations that come from the minor adjustments that are often needed to keep things on track are about positioning, scheduling, and doing the best you can under the circumstances to keep everybody happy: customers, dispatchers, enforcement -- and the family.

No Grey Area

The problem with HOS is there's no legal grey area, and there really needs to be some neutral ground there. I fear that electronic on-board recorders will eliminate what little flexibility we have, leaving drivers stranded a few short hours away from a delivery – or a long weekend with the kids.

Drivers have been making minor adjustments to their logs for years -- and we've got a high number of violations to show for it -- but there's little to link those numbers to the relatively small number of truly fatigue-induced accidents.

A case in point is the backyard, Saturday afternoon mechanic, or for the driver that neglects to fill in the license number on his log sheet. Those infractions all wind up on the same rap sheet, but has safety been compromised?

I can see where black boxes could make a driver's life better, too, given the ability to track wasted time. I'm sure they'd help build a better case for billing that time to the offending party, but who do you bill for a border delay or a traffic jam? We do know who gets the bill for a forfeited houseboat rental.

FMCSA has steadfastly refused to allow a little flexibility into its HOS rules under the unbelievably lame and frankly unacceptable excuse that it can't figure out a way to do it that won't be subject to abuse. Well Ms Ferro and company, here's a suggestion: Give me an extra hour or two today to make a deadline and I'll give it back to you tomorrow -- or after my weekend at home.

Simply, let me make the necessary adjustments to the workday on the day I need it, and I will work that many fewer hours tomorrow. I know I'm not getting away with anything, and the payback comes with a potential penalty, so I'll have to use it with discretion.

I can't imagine an easier way to track such adjustments than with an electronic logging device. It's had to pull the wool over an EOBR's eyes. You're going to get your EOBR mandate, now, give a little something back to the drivers who have so much to lose with the limited flexibility.  

If somebody can show me that EOBRs will improve the lives of drivers and their families, I'm all for them. If they'll put more money in drivers' pockets by ensuring they're paid for all the work they do, or getting drivers home for special days, I say bring 'em on. If EOBRs are about improving safety, please show me the numbers that prove the assertion. But if EOBRs are nothing more than a tool to make the cops' jobs easier, or to limit liability, I suggest there are less intrusive ways of doing that. I'm open to persuasion.


  1. 1. Shawn Cole [ June 22, 2013 @ 06:16AM ]

    Very Well Put!
    Exactly what this country needs...

  2. 2. BarbRRB [ June 24, 2013 @ 11:20AM ]

    Love the article!
    Just that little bit of time may mean the world to a driver to make his appointment or make it home. One day only 45 minutes made my world a disaster on getting home to my family. Flexibility is what is needed,

  3. 3. Danny Butler [ June 25, 2013 @ 01:08PM ]

    My compliments on the article! Maybe yours will get more attention; I wrote about this to the FMCSA a couple of years ago when new reg's were in the works and it didn't come-to-pass - big surprise. A driver of any experience is not going to go comatose after 11 hours at the wheel, so let there be a little room for reasonable extension of time on a given day. Yes, my extra 1/2 to 1 hour I take today I will give up tomorrow. I'm a day-cab operator and I'm really expected to get a room when I'm 45 miles from home??


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Author Bio

Jim Park

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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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