The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration indicates it will re-examine the costs-vs-benefits of mandatory electronic onboard recorders in a new list of frequently asked questions it posted this week on its website.
Newer devices such as Qualcomm's MCP 50 could lower the FMCSA's estimated cost of a mandatory electronic onboard recorder rule.
Newer devices such as Qualcomm's MCP 50 could lower the FMCSA's estimated cost of a mandatory electronic onboard recorder rule.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has criticized the FMCSA's efforts to mandate automated driver hours-of-service logs, saying such a mandate would impose a $2 billion penalty on the trucking industry -- a cost small-business truckers can ill afford to pay, it says.

The FAQ notes that OOIDA's numbers are based on the agency's Regulatory Impact Analysis for the 2011 notice of proposed rulemaking on EOBRs, which estimated total costs of $2.377 billion per year.

However, the agency said in its FAQ that it believes costs for the devices has come down since it made that estimate.

The agency notes the same 2011 RIA estimated total benefits of $2.711 billion, resulting in an annual net benefit of $344 million. A significant portion of these benefits, the agency says, would come from $1.965 billion in annual paperwork reduction - a savings of $688 per driver each year - due to drivers no longer completing and submitting logbooks.

The FAQ goes on to say the agency is currently preparing a supplemental NPRM that will re-examine the estimated costs and benefits (both paperwork savings and safety) associated with an EOBR mandate for carriers using handwritten RODS.

The agency explains that that $2 billion-plus cost estimate was actually higher than the one in its 2010 final rule (which was subsequently vacated by the court), because the 2011 rule focused on the least expensive device determined to be compliant.

"The agency chose to base its calculations on the higher cost device in the 2011 NPRM because it did not believe that a sufficient number of the cheapest units would be available for a broad industry mandate, which would cover approximately 2 million units."

The Market Has Changed

FMCSA used Qualcomm's Mobile Computing Platform 150, or MCP 150, to calculate that $2 billion cost in its 2011 proposed rule. It retails for approximately $1,775.

The agency now says it believes the market has changed since 2011, with new vendors entering the market with electronic logging devices without as many added bells and whistles that are useful for fleet management.

"The availability of these cheaper devices should significantly decrease the estimated cost of the rule compared to that of the 2011 RIA," the agency says.

For example, Qualcomm's new MCP 50 retails for about $900, the FAQ notes. "Other vendors are advertising EOBRs at even lower prices, although not yet in sufficient numbers to meet a broad industry mandate," including Continental's VDO Roadlog, which retails for about $500; a device from J.J. Keller available by lease for a $199 initial fee plus a monthly fee. Other smaller vendors offer EOBR devices that can run as an application on a smartphone.

EOBRs in CSA hearing

In a hearing before the House Small Business Committee Wednesday about concerns on the FMCSA's CSA enforcement program, Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La., jumped on FMCSA Deputy Administrator Bill Bronrott for the agency's pending electronic onboard recorder mandate. Landry recently attached an amendment to a House appropriations bill that would not allow the DOT to spend money in fiscal year 2013 on event data recorders, sought by OOIDA.

Landry demanded a commitment from Bronrott that FMCSA will not move forward with the rule, a commitment the agency official was unable to make.

Landry said the rule will cost $2 billion. Bronrott replied that it will save at least that much, but Landry suggested that instead of requiring carriers to get recorders "maybe we should just pay those people not to get on the road."

Related Stories:

7/9/2012 EOBR Cut-Off Faces Opposition in Senate

5/23/2012 On the Road Blog: What this country needs is a good $300 electronic log

8/29/2011 Court Rejects EOBR Rule