Analyzing the challenges and benefits of EOBRs

Electronic onboard recorders or “EOBRs” – also often called “electronic driver logs” or “black boxes” – present a series of challenges as well as potential benefits to the trucking industry, according to Dave Kraft, director of industry affaire for Qualcomm Enterprise Solutions.

But one thing he stressed above all others in a webinar this week is that carriers cannot avoid dealing with EOBRs, as the federal government mandated this technology for all truckers as part of the highway funding bill – dubbed the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” or “MAP-21” – signed into law last July.

“The timeline for EOBRs established by the MAP-21 funding bill is very straightforward,” Kraft said during the Qualcomm webinar. “The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) must issue a final rule on EOBRs by Oct. 1, 2013, with the effective date of implementation Oct. 1, 2015.”

However, while he noted that MAP-21 is “very specific” on the EOBR timeline, Kraft believes FMCSA won’t take a rigid approach to implementation – largely because of the very nature of the regulatory process.

“It’ll take at least a year for whatever [EOBR] rule they propose to become a final rule, and so I really wouldn’t expect them to produce a final rule until mid-2014,” he noted. “FMCSA also has to address other issues as well, such as the potential for ‘driver harassment,’ which is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit by OOIDA [Owner-Operator independent Drivers Association].”

Another reason FMCSA may take a “go slow” approach to proposing and finalizing this mandated EOBR rule is that it’s already been down this road before, losing a court battle over its prior attempt to craft an EOBR mandate – forcing the agency to rescind it earlier this year.

This time, however, the EOBR mandate will stick as it is part of federal legislation. The questions facing fleets, then, are how to comply with the mandate without disrupting their operations while benefiting from the technology as well.

“What carriers really need to do is avoid ‘11thhour’ implementation of technology: don’t wait until the last minute,” Kraft cautioned. “Because the mandate is in MAP-21, sooner or later fleets must comply with it. While it doesn’t mean you have to run out and get one today, you have to start planning now. There’s value in acting sooner rather than later, especially in terms of avoiding business disruptions."

He also stressed that there are several positives to consider with EOBRs as well – the first being that many such devices are already being used in large numbers throughout the industry. Kraft noted that some 500,000 EOBRs are currently in use in trucking, up from just 200,000 in 2009.

The other benefits EOBRs can bring to trucking’s table include a significant reduction in paperwork and other administrative costs connected to managing paper logbooks – with Qualcomm’s research indicating that a move to EOBRs could eliminate 688 hours of administrative work per driver per year.

“Driver satisfaction is an intangible benefit as well,” Kraft added. “We’ve found that once EOBRs are in place, it not only improves time management for drivers and logging accuracy, it reduces ‘job stress’ to a degree since the devices now automatically track metrics they used to have to calculate by hand.”

He also pointed out that the wider adoption of EOBRs in recent years is helping spur some positive safety trend lines as well. Kraft said that there’s been a 12% reduction in total logbook violations and a corresponding 12% decline in out of service (OOS) tallies linked to hours of service (HOS) violations over the past several years as EOBR usage has increased.

Indeed, the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA) noted that out of the 48,815 North American Standard Level 1 inspections conducted back in June during its 25th annual Roadcheck inspection blitz, just 22.4% of vehicles and 3.9% of drivers were placed out of service (OOS) – the second lowest level ever achieved over the past quarter century – while HOS related violations relative to all out-of-service violations declined slightly.

“This is all occurring at a time when the number of ongoing roadside inspections is staying relatively consistent,” Kraft noted. “In sum, I think there’s a lot than can be gained from adopting this technology.” 

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