The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute is studying the safety records of drivers and fleets that have been using electronic onboard recorders to comply with federal hours of service requirements to see if they improve safety and compliance.

The FMCSA wants to mandate EOBRs, and the highway bill recently passed calls for them as well. However, a rule that was scheduled to go into effect mandating the devices for the most blatant violators of hours regulations was withdrawn after a court ruling found it did not address the issue of fleets using the devices to harass drivers.

"A requirement to use electronic onboard recorders was withdrawn because of potential misuse and questions about whether the devices actually increase compliance and safety," said Jeff Hickman, occupational health and safety expert at Virginia Tech Transportation Institute.

Hickman, the leader of the behavioral analysis and applications group in the Center for Truck and Bus Safety, has been awarded a grant by FMCSA to "evaluate the potential safety benefits of electronic onboard recorders."

His team will also look at whether such devices improve compliance with hours-of-service regulations, how many operators and fleets use them, how much they cost to install and operate, and whether there are other benefits of the devices.

Hickman specializes in assessing driver behavior, fatigue, work/rest cycles, and driver distraction in commercial motor operations.

"For this research project, we will look at crash and vehicle data to determine whether trucks with electronic onboard recorders have a significantly lower crash rate than those without," he said. "Our database will also allow us to look at preventable crashes and crashes that have been designated as fatigue related."

The project will also include DOT-recorded crash rates and hours-of-service violation rates for vehicles with and without electronic onboard recording devices.

Study results will be reported by late 2013.

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