Level the playing field

Since this is a printed column, I can't really ask for a show of hands, but I can wonder whether anyone is actually surprised by the recent notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Appearing in the Feb. 1 issue of the Federal Register, FMCSA announced a full electronic onboard recorder (EOBR) mandate for those trucks that operate in Interstate

Since this is a printed column, I can't really ask for a show of hands, but I can wonder whether anyone is actually surprised by the recent notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) issued by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA). Appearing in the Feb. 1 issue of the Federal Register, FMCSA announced a full electronic onboard recorder (EOBR) mandate for those trucks that operate in Interstate commerce and use driver logs as a way to record their compliance with hours-of-service (HOS) regulations.

This regulation has been discussed for years now by a proactive industry that has already begun to take advantage of EOBR technology in order to better comply with HOS regulations. Early adopters have also found that EOBRs provide an effective means of reducing their Fatigued Driving BASIC score in the agency's CSA program. In other words, the industry is well ahead of the agency when it comes to this rulemaking by taking advantage of a tool that improves its fleets.

Even as carriers adopt this tool to advance their safety programs, however, I continue to wonder why the proposed regulation does not apply to every fleet in the country. Simultaneous applicability would certainly apply in this instance so that no one carrier, regardless of operation, would have a leg up on other carriers. By proposing a rule that only affects carriers that maintain records of duty status does not create an even playing field in the world of trucking.

While I don't mean to nitpick a proposed rule that will benefit all of trucking, I will say that the agency has certainly missed the mark when it comes to making it easier for carriers to adopt and use this tool for the benefit of HOS compliance. It is no shock that small carriers across the country are still reeling from an economic recession that made some go out of business and others struggle daily. That says nothing of independent contractors, many of whom continue to be at risk of bankruptcy. EOBR installation is expensive, and I imagine it would have benefited FMCSA as well as carriers alike to include a financial incentive to aid in adoption. The agency states in the NPRM that EOBRs cost roughly $1,500 - $2,000 installed and several hundred dollars per year in service fees.

Instead of financial incentives, FMCSA could have offered greater flexibility in the sleeper berth provision of the HOS regulation. With this proposed EOBR rulemaking, sleeper berth flexibility as a whole would be easier to track, easier to comply with and, of course, easier to enforce. Drivers would then have the luxury of being able to sleep when they are tired, and the agency would be able to enforce those split sleeper berth breaks more easily by referring to the EOBR that they have mandated in every long-haul commercial motor vehicle.

As the agency creeps forward with its EOBR rulemaking for the truckload segment of the industry, that segment already finds itself ahead of the agency. So instead of just placing a mandate on a proactive safety community such as the truckload segment of the industry, perhaps the agency should reward them for already accepting the responsibility of fielding drivers with the tools to achieve a higher level of safety.


David Heller, CDS, is director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn. He is responsible for interpreting and communicating industry-related regulations and legislation to the membership of TCA. Send comments to Safety411@truckload.org.

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