EOBR proposal meets with praise, scorn

The unveiling of a proposed electronic onboard recorder rule on Monday for the industry has drawn both praise and scorn in industry circles

The unveiling of a proposed electronic onboard recorder rule on Monday for the industry has drawn both praise and scorn in industry circles.

The proposed rule from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) would require all carriers involved in interstate commerce whose drivers currently maintain Records of Duty States (RODS) for Hours-of-Service compliance to install EOBRs in their vehicles. Carriers whose drivers currently use a time card, primarily those that travel within a 150 air-mile radius of their place of employment and do not require a commercial driver’s license, would be exempt.

Some supporting documents would not be needed for fleets using EOBRs.

“We’re not surprised. The trucking industry has known something like this was coming for awhile,” David Heller, director of safety and policy for Truckload Carriers Assn. (TCA), told Fleet Owner. “The one issue we would like to see is simultaneous applicability… we would like it to apply to everyone.”

Heller said that it’s TCA’s belief that applying the rule across the board would help spread the cost, the primary objection to the mandating of EOBRs by smaller carriers and owner-operators.

“Those that have tried them and used them have never had a negative reaction to them,” Heller added.

But owner-operators, who must pay “top prices” for the devices rather than receiving bulk discounts, are not happy with the proposal.

“Have they done any studies? They can put an EOBR in my truck, but when the truck stops, it doesn’t tell them whether I’m unloading or in the sleeper,” said Leo Wilkins, an owner-operator hauling safety equipment such as portable signs for highway projects in the Eastern half of the U.S. “It’s getting to the point where I’m going to have to prove when I am not driving.”

The rule could also have further impacts as comments roll in and a final rule is developed.

“Definitely it’s going to have an impact beyond what they’re anticipating,” said Eric Arnold, who owns Arnold Safety Consulting n Pennsylvania.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA) said the proposal will hurt small business truckers and increase costs and leveled harsh criticism at FMCSA.

“EOBRs are nothing more than over-priced record keepers,” said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA. “This proposal is actually another example of the administration’s determination to wipe out small businesses by continuing to crank out overly burdensome regulations that simply run up costs.”

OOIDA argues that an EOBR can’t accurately record a driver’s Hours-of-Service and duty status, time which includes loading and unloading.

The organization also said that the “government ignored a federal statute to ensure that EOBRs will not be used to harass vehicle operators. According to OOIDA, an analysis conducted by FMCSA said that “companies use EOBRs to enforce company policies and monitor drivers’ behavior in other ways.”

“Companies can and do use technology to harass drivers by interrupting rest periods,” Spencer said. “They can contact the driver and put on pressure to get back on the road to get the most of his or her on-duty time. This mandate would be a step backward in the effort to make highways safer.”

Patrick Quinn, co-chairman & president of U.S. Xpress, one of the companies in the Alliance for Driver Safety and Security, told Fleet Owner the rule would put all carriers on even ground. The Alliance was formed last fall to advance legislation to require EOBRs.

“The proposed rulemaking on EBORs appears to be along the same lines as the legislation that has been proposed by Sen. Pryor and Sen. Alexander, and it is a step in the right direction,” Quinn said. “The rulemaking, like the legislation, looks to promote safety and accountability, and it will also place all carriers on a level playing field.”

National Private Truck Council general counsel Rick Schweitzer told Fleet Owner he is not surprised at the proposal, but is “a little surprised by the timing and scope of this proposed rule – it would apply to all the motor carriers in interstate commerce.”

“I think the fact that they’ve kept the short-haul exemption is going to limit the cost of the rule, but frankly, I think most NPTC members, if not the vast majority of them, have some sort of EOBR in their vehicles now,” he added. “I don’t think it’s going to be a major issue for private fleets.”

Wilkins, though, like many owner-operators, is particularly frustrated with the recent spate of regulations, including the proposed Hours-of-Service rule released just before Christmas.

“They’re trying to destroy the owner-operator,” Wilkins said. “We’ve had a flurry of regulations” that all negatively impact the owner-operator.

“We can’t compete with the big companies on fuel; they’re buying it 40, 50 cents cheaper than we do. For APUs, we pay top dollar. How are we going to compete?” he asked.

The small owner-operator hauls over 70% of the freight in this country, Wilkins added. “A lot of these big companies, the J.B. Hunts, use owner-operators, the guys with five trucks.”

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