The final electronic onboard recorder rule will significantly expand the scope of the proposed rule, according to John Hill, chief of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

"It's still not as far as a lot of people would like me to go, but it's significantly more than what we had proposed," Hill said, speaking in Minneapolis Tuesday at an EOBR conference sponsored by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance. Hill was referencing the portion of the proposal that requires habitual violators of the hours of service rules to use recorders.

FMCSA has finished its work on the final rule and sent it for review by the White House Office of Management and Budget. It is scheduled to be released this year, but Hill said he does not know if OMB will meet that deadline.

Under the proposal, a carrier would have to use recorders if it violates the hours rule 10 percent or more of the time, as determined in two compliance reviews within a two-year period. This would affect only a minute portion of the national fleet. The agency estimated that fewer than 1,000 of the estimated 650,000 carriers it regulates would be covered.

Under federal law, Hill cannot discuss the details of the final rule until it has been released, but he did indicate that the mandatory requirement in the final rule will touch more than these few carriers.

He also said that this rule is probably the precursor to a universal EOBR mandate.

"I believe that this is the start of something that is going to become much bigger in the days ahead," he said. "I think that eventually you will see a universal mandate."

This will not happen right away and it will require a change in the law, he said. Current law requires FMCSA to justify its rules with a cost-benefit analysis, and Hill said a universal EOBR rule cannot pass that test.

"You can't put (EOBRs) on every truck in this country unless Congress says, write a rule and put it in every truck or every bus. And I don't know whether Congress is going to do that in these economic times."

The mandatory recorder requirement is just one of several key features of the proposed rule. The agency wants to encourage voluntary use of recorders by offering incentives, such as a lighter touch in a safety analysis, to fleets that use recorders. The proposal also spells out new performance standards for recorders, taking into account the many technological improvements that have been brought to market since the current voluntary rule was written in 1988.