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EOBR’s: THE END OF BIPARTISAN REGULATIONS


Electronic onboard recording devices are an expensive, intrusive, and mostly unnecessary regulatory device that FMCSA wants to mandate on all commercial vehicles. Their argument is that this mandate will somehow improve SAFETY, i.e., a reduction of crashes, injuries, and fatalities in large truck crashes in the U. S. This argument continues in the face of the decade-long Werner experiment with EOBR’s that seemed to have a negative impact on crashes, injuries, and fatalities, rather than a positive one.

EOBR’s started out in Western Europe years ago as a simple tachograph that helped government collect road taxes from truckers. Its original idea certainly had nothing to do with SAFETY, but much to do with money. That hasn’t changed much on this side of the Atlantic with this mandate. Money is the ultimate motivator behind mandated EOBR’s.

Where is the money?

Global Position Satellites (GPS) entered the trucking industry some twenty five years ago with Qualcomm leading the parade. The boxes were around $3,300.00 per unit and the monthly fee ran around $60.00 to $90.00 per power unit per month. Larger companies flocked to this technology primarily to mitigate the logistical nightmare created by extremely high driver turnover rates and the fact that a certain percentage of their drivers could not be trusted to tell the truth about their respective locations. There were certainly other benefits for GPS tracking that included ease of communication between driver and dispatch, fewer check calls, the ability for one dispatcher to handle more trucks, loads, and drivers, fuel tax calculations, asset management, and to use as a valuable marketing tool to sophisticated shippers who wanted to track their shipments. The down-side to this technology was that good drivers resented the implication that they could not be trusted and that “Big Brother” was always tracking their movements.

 

In the early years, I think it’s fair to say that GPS technology had a negative effect on many companies’ already huge driver turnover problems. Besides that, for small companies and independent owner-operators, it was too expensive and thus, not an option. Regulators and auditors love GPS because it saves them time and money at audits. Technology has since advanced the practicality for GPS usage and pricing is now available for less than half of the early Qualcomm pricing. Turning existing GPS systems into EOBR’s will once again increase drastically the cost per truck to include electronic logs. And basically, mandated EOBR’s will not be a major additional financial cost for the mega-fleets but for small fleets and independent contractors, it will be a significant burden and in most cases, with little or no return on investment.

Speaking of money, how will the states, counties, and municipalities finance the cost of equipping all of their cruisers with the capability of pulling log data from trucks into the appropriate government system and transmitting that from the roadside? Speaking of money, if the EOBR becomes dysfunctional, is the truck then “out-of-service” on the side of the road? Speaking of money, how does FMCSA intend to train sheriff deputies, highway patrolmen, and any others who are being asked to make determinations and interpretations of federal regulations on the side of the road? Is there to be any standardization of procedures or interpretations or will we continue to see widespread confusion on inspections that lead to hundreds of mistakes made road side that immediately affect the safety status of companies and drivers without due process, probable cause, or any functioning appeal process?

The cry for mandated EOBR’s is based on a false premise that all trucking companies and all drivers push the hours of service rules and cheat on their logs. If this premise were true, why are only 2.9% of companies audited given an UNSATISFACTORY rating? In 2011 there were 10,964 audits and 323 unsatisfactory ratings issued.

FMCSA’s original plan was to mandate EOBR’s for only companies with extreme and chronic log falsification tendencies, the so called “BAD ACTORS.” This was however, devised prior to CSA which brands 35% of all carriers in the database as having “Driver Fatigue” issues and/or “unsafe driving issues” all of the time. The true figure is closer to 3-4% which would identify mandated EOBR’s as an over kill solution to a negligible problem. This is in fact the case. Mandated EOBR’s is merely a compliance tool that will have little positive effect on safety numbers at a huge cost to everyone from the driver down to the consumer.

Who benefits from mandated EOBR’s? The mega fleets will benefit most. Since most of them already have the technology in their trucks, the cost for EOBR’s will be minimal. Once EOBR’s are mandated for everyone, they’ll be able to retain more drivers because leaving one company with EOBR’s for another company without them, will not be an option any longer. The brunt of the added costs will fall on their competitors, the small companies and independent contractors. This is the sole reason why The American Trucking Association who is politically and financially dominated by the mega-fleets, supports a proposal that is ultimately detrimental to competition and detrimental to 95% of the trucking companies in America, the small fleets and independent contractors. This also is the primary reason why OOIDA, NASTC, and The National Federation of Independent Businesses are the only three organizations that have publically opposed mandated EOBR’s.

OOIDA is to be applauded for bringing FMCSA to court challenging the mandated use of EOBR’s. Though there were many logical disqualifying reasons, the court did not look past the driver harassment issue and set aside FMCSA’s attempt to mandate. The agency has promised to address the court’s issue with driver harassment with a re-worded mandate. I just don’t see how they can legitimately satisfy this one issue without a bureaucratic and litigious nightmare and, speaking of money, do we form a “driver harassment board” within the agency to determine whose harassment to kick?

In many respects, this ends up being an additional, disingenuous tax on American consumers, much like cap and trade. Worse than that, it is the bunny hill to the slippery slope that will allow our central government to track, tax, and control all motor vehicles in the country. This issue is much larger than anyone at present believes.

I’m still convinced that the only way to eliminate all truck-related fatalities is to eliminate trucks.

NOTE of CLARIFICATION:

Nothing in the above should be construed as an argument against the implementation of EOBR’s in a fleet of trucks as a management tool. Our entire argument is against mandated EOBR’s for all companies. This is not an appropriate function of government or the agency nor will it positively impact safety numbers. This is one of those issues that is best left to the market place for implementation as a means to compete, not an expensive fiat misplaced on the vast majority of carriers who have no business use for the technology.

David Owen
President, NASTC
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