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Shippers urged to make operational changes as trucking companies endorse EOBRs for commercial trucks

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor
October 22, 2010

As five leading U.S. trucking companies are calling for federal regulations that would require all interstate trucking companies to install electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) on all their trucks to verify legal duty status of their drivers, their customers are being urged to make changes as well.

From decreasing the amount of waiting times at their ducks to increasing efficiency in their overall supply chain, shippers are being urged to consider changes in their operations as drivers’ on-duty time becomes increasingly precious, a top U.S. trucking official told Logistics Management.
 
“Shippers are the ones who are going to have tremendous impact how we manage our time,” says Steve Williams, chairman and CEO of Maverick USA, Little Rock, Ark., and a former chairman of the American Trucking Associations. “Things like waiting time, dwell time, that’s part of the entire service package. Shippers have some complicity in this. And they certainly have a lot of control over this.”
 
As the government again seeks to modify drivers’ hours of service rules, Williams says those changes will impact shippers. “We’ve seen many cases in which there has been a lack of interest of lack of concern on the part of shippers,” Williams says. “Some shippers just have never contemplated the mechanics of what it takes to timely deliver their freight. This brings them into the equation.”

Shippers need to better manage their supply chains to bring the driver (and his legal hours of service) into the overall equation between their operations and the carriers. Are shippers ready for this? They better be, Williams said, as the industry sets course on a period when analysts expect tighter truck capacity as the economy rebounds.
 
“Those who understand it can invest and build around this predictable regulatory doctrine will be the ones who get the trucks,” Williams predicts. “The others will find trucks in short supply.”
 
This prediction comes in the wake of the introduction of a Senate bill, the “Commercial Driver Compliance Improvement Act,” introduced by Sens. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., that would require trucks have electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) these devices within three years.
 
These devices are expected to affect overall truck capacity because drivers would be held to a stricter hours of service compliance than is currently possible through the use of paper logs—commonly known among drivers as “comic books.”
 
The companies endorsing the bill are five giants in the truckload sector—Schneider National (second-largest TL carrier by revenue), U.S. Xpress (fourth largest, J.B. Hunt Transportation Services (fifth largest), Knight Transportation (10th largest), and Maverick USA, a major flatbed carrier with more than $300 million in revenue.
 
These companies are forming an industry coalition, “Alliance for Driver Safety & Security,” to urge Congress to pass this and other legislation designed to improve highway safety. These companies’ CEOs are recommending all transportation firms embrace the legislation and support the safety effort.
 
“Electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) will improve safety on our nation’s highways by applying technology to document driver compliance to the hours of service rules,” says Craig Harper, J.B. Hunt chief operating officer. “Early evaluation of the Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA 2010) data suggests that carriers with higher levels of hours of service compliance have lower crash involvement.”
 
Trucking officials believe such use of EOBRs would level the playing field between those in compliance and those drivers who are not. “Our drivers currently using the system love it,” said Greer Woodruff, a senior executive at J.B. Hunt. “We look forward to rolling it out and taking advantage of current technology to replace the current paper backed system.”
 
Prices of the devices range from basic models of around $300-400 to as much as $2,000 for those that have add navigation and communication, texting and voice mail capabilities, industry officials said.

The Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA) long has opposed the so-called “black boxes,” on privacy grounds and because it says there is no link between these devices and highway safety. OOIDA would rather the government require some mandated training or driving training instead of requiring these devices.

OOIDA already has filed a legal challenge on EOBRs last June in anticipation of introduction of such a regulation by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.
 
But trucking executives say the current system is rife with fraud, said drivers, who often ridicule the paper log books by calling them “comic books.” It is not unusual for drivers to maintain two sets of logs—one to get paid, cover actual hours; the other fictitious, to stay within the legal hours set by the government. Installing EOBRs would eliminate much of the guesswork.
 
“This legislation is a sensible initiative to improve working conditions for commercial drivers and to promote highway safety,” says Kevin Knight, chairman and CEO of Phoenix-based Knight Transportation. “Under a uniform standard, the public will be able to rely n the hours of service of all drivers, rather than just some drivers.”
 
Getting all drivers under the same set of regulations is “very important to the general public to assure them all trucks are complying with rules as they are,” J.B. Hunt’s Woodruff said. “We don’t need drivers out there who are not willing to comply with HOS. This gives greater assurances to all the public. It helps our image. Takes off the table the question of whether the driver is not complying.
 
Mandating use of EOBRs commits the entire supply chain, including shippers, to meeting the challenges of Just-in-Time ground transportation, says Maverick’s Williams.
 
“The trucking industry operates in an environment that is becoming increasingly more complex and congested,” Williams said. “All stakeholders must be assured that the people who are privileged to operate commercial vehicles are well trained, drug- and alcohol-free and sufficiently rested.”
 
Don Osterberg, senior vice president of safety for Schneider National, says the current HOS are science-based and reasonable. He says the problem isn’t with the rules, but with a lack of compliance.
 
“Electronic logging devices take the non-compliance issues off the table,” Osterberg says. “Given limited enforcement resources, there are carriers whose value proposition is that they’ll accept risk that compliant carriers will not accept. In short, they play ‘catch me if you can’ with the Department of Transportation. They are rarely caught. This doesn’t serve our industry or public safety well.”
 
Osterberg says the “inherent looseness” of the current system of paper logs fosters this behavior as they can be easily manipulated in a driver’s favor. “Electronic logs, by comparison, are difficult to manipulate and make it nearly impossible to falsify records of hours worked.”
 
U.S. Xpress Co-Chairman and President Pat Quinn says his $1.4 billion company began implementing EOBRs about three years ago and is currently expanding it throughout his fleet. “In our experience, our drivers have adapted well to the use of electronic logs,” says Quinn, another former ATA chairman.
 
“It has made our drivers and our operation more efficient,” Quinn says flatly. “We believe that it also helped our company to maintain our high standards for safety.”
 
Trucking industry officials said it was probably too late for Congress to act on this measure this year. Rather, they are focusing on 2011 as the time for its passage, when a five-year highway reauthorization bill also is up for debate.

About the Author

image
John D. Schulz
Contributing Editor

John D. Schulz has been a transportation journalist for more than 20 years, specializing in the trucking industry. He is known to own the fattest Rolodex in the business, and is on a first-name basis with scores of top-level trucking executives who are able to give shippers their latest insights on the industry on a regular basis. This wise Washington owl has performed and produced at some of the highest levels of journalism in his 40-year career, mostly as a Washington newsman.


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