Trucking and safety interests are pressing congressional negotiators to include an electronic onboard recorder mandate in the highway bill they are drafting. In a letter to leaders of the House-Senate conference committee, industry interest groups strongly urged that the mandate be kept in the bill.

"Enactment of this provision is essential for improving (hours of service) compliance, assisting law enforcement in verifying compliance with HOS rules, and advancing highway safety," they said.

The May 7 letter was signed by Bill Graves, president and CEO of American Trucking Associations, Jacqueline Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Joan Claybrook, president emeritus of Public Citizen, and LaMont Byrd, director of safety and health for the Teamsters union.

Also, Stephen Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, John Lannen, executive director of the Truck Safety Coalition, Steve Williams, chairman of the Alliance for Driver Safety and Security, and Chris Burruss, president of the Truckload Carriers Association.

The provision is opposed by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which holds that the recorders are an unnecessary expense because they do not improve safety.

The EOBR mandate is included in the Senate's two-year, $109 billion highway bill. The House does not have a comparable bill, although it has drafted a measure that says the eobr rule that now is being written by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration must include standards for performance and certification.

The agency recently began a supplemental process to resolve technical and legal issues surrounding its recorder proposal. It is not clear when a final rule will be ready.

Sean McNally, spokesman for ATA, explained that FMCSA does not need Congress to pass an eobr mandate in order to complete work on its rule. But the law will give the agency specific directions on the terms of the rule, and strengthen the case for the rule in the likely event that it will be challenged in court.

The conferees, whose first formal meeting is scheduled for today, have until the end of June to agree on a bill, or extend the program temporarily for the 10th time.