At a meeting of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance in Bellevue, Wash., representatives of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration took two hours’ worth of testimony from trucking industry representatives relative to the agency’s published intention to issue a broad mandate for electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs) to monitor drivers’ hours. At issue, primarily, was an exploration of whether the devices could be used as tools for carriers and/or law enforcement to harass drivers.
Carrier representatives already utilizing EOBRs expressed support of the effort of a broader mandate, while owner-operators urged FMCSA to consider existing, more affordable alternatives to hours enforcement and address the root causes of hours noncompliance.
Owner-operator and 2010 Goodyear Highway Hero award winner Tilden Curl mentioned reports from fellow drivers who’ve seen real-time back-office hours manipulation firsthand. When sharing lack of hours to complete a particular haul with dispatch, sufficient hours “magically” appear in their EOBR, Curl said. “An EOBR is best suited as a management tool, rather than an enforcement tool for officers.”
He offered the example of Washington and Oregon’s weigh station cameras. Combined with software that interprets images to record truck information, the systems “provide time-stamped records of travel [and] give you valid information that is not doctored in any way,” said Curl. “It’s a system that works.”
Curl cited an hours-enforcement blitz last Fall he saw firsthand in Washington, his home state. “They nearly filled the weigh station with trucks.”
Giving inspectors around the nation the resources to use such tools would be an effective deterrent to hours scofflaws and would allow the agency to effectively bypass the privacy concerns Curl and others see in EOBRs. “Any company that wants to invest in EOBRs should be able to do so,” said Curl, but he could see little safety or compliance benefit for a nationwide mandate “beyond what the west coast systems have done.”
Werner Transportation company driver Tim Dean said he has been operating under some form of automated hours monitoring for the entirety of his 23-year, 3-million-mile-plus safe driving career. “I believe the perception [among drivers] of EOBRs is negative,” he said, “but over the years, they’ve become a bigger asset to me.” He cited the dispatch/trip-planning efficiency the devices help enable as a tool to actually mitigate “harassment during off hours.”