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Trucking news: EOBR mandate turned over by U.S. Court

By John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor and Jeff Berman, Group News Editor
August 29, 2011

A ruling issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) focused on mandating usage of electronic onboard recorders (EOBR) for over-the-road motor carriers was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit late last week.

“We conclude that the rule cannot stand because the Agency failed to consider an issue that it was statutorily required to address,” read the court’s decision. “Specifically, the
Agency said nothing about the requirement that any regulation about the use of monitoring devices in commercial vehicles must ‘ensure that the devices are not
used to harass vehicle operators.’”

The lawsuit over the EOBR mandate was filed by the the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA).  OOIDA officials added that the court said that EOBR technology allows the pressuring of drivers to perform at higher levels and to even drive when tired, and thus it vacated the rule.

EOBRs are devices attached to commercial vehicles that automatically record the number of hours drivers spend operating vehicles. Last year, Senators Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn introduced the “Commercial Driver Compliance Improvement Act,” which would require trucks have electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) devices within three years. And prior to last week’s court decision, there has been sentiment that these devices would 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.

Earlier this year, FMCSA issued a proposed rulemaking requiring EOBRs for interstate commercial trucks and buses. Should this rule take effect in the future, FMCSA estimates it would affect roughly 500,000 carriers. And for carriers that do not comply, the FMCSA has made it clear the price they pay will be steep, with carriers violating the EOBR requirement subject to fines of up to $11,000 for each offense. Under this proposal, the FMCSA said that interstate carriers currently using logbooks to document drivers’ HOS (Hours-of-Service) would be required to use EOBRs but they would not be required for short-haul interstate carriers using timecards to track HOS.

This rule was also geared towards carriers that have a ten percent or higher rate of noncompliance with hours-of-service rules in any single compliance review, according to the OOIDA.

“Though we are still reviewing the Court’s decision, ATA supports FMCSA’s efforts to mandate the adoption and use of electronic logging devices for hours-of-service compliance,” ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said in a statement. “FMCSA’s research shows that compliance with the current hours-of-service rules is strongly associated with reduced crash risk. Of course, electronic logging devices are an important tool for improving hours of service compliance.”

Graves added that he hopes the FMCSA will work quickly to address the Court’s decision and the important device design and performance specifications being evaluated by the Administrator’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee.  He went on to point out the record improvement in the industry’s safety record since the framework for the current hours-of-service rules went into effect and the agency’s own compliance and crash data, increasing compliance with the rules is vital.

OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said that companies can and do use technology to harass drivers by interrupting rest periods, noting that this decision focused on harassment issues but also indicated there were other problematic part of the EOBR rule.

Shippers and carriers have both told LM that if used effectively and correctly EOBR usage would be a main cog in future driver safety efforts and initiatives.

U.S. Xpress Co-Chairman and President Pat Quinn told LM in a September 2010 interview that his $1.4 billion company began implementing EOBRs about four 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 said. “We believe that it also helped our company to maintain our high standards for safety.”

FMCSA officials were unavailable for comment at press time.

About the Author

John D. Schulz, Contributing Editor and Jeff Berman, Group News Editor

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