Opposition to black box recorders for commercial trucks just won't go away. The problem is much of that opposition is based on misinformation, outmoded attitudes and fear. It's time that the trucking industry face this issue squarely and honestly, that it address those fears and that it figure out how it can best live with the black box. If as a fleet operator you don't act soon to do just that, the decisions are going to be made for you by others.
Let's start with inevitability. Driver monitoring systems are standard in Europe, in much of South America, and in most developed countries. The black box is a non-issue in these countries, part of the driver's and fleet's everyday life. Our current reexamination of hours-of-service rules keeps coming back to questions about why the U.S. still relies on a paper “honor system” to monitor its truck drivers.
If you accept that controlling driving hours is important to truck safety — and that's a logical conclusion for most people — then how can you justify retaining a system that's easy to misuse when a far more reliable system is available and already widely used? You can't if you want to retain any credibility. It's an untenable argument that trucking will lose if it continues its opposition to something the general public sees as plain common sense.
Then there's cost. Most of the complaints I hear about the potential cost of black boxes are based on old information, on the cost of installing standalone onboard computers. A modern truck is already generating all of the operational data it needs to support a recorder. All that's lacking are an interface for the driver to input status information and perhaps a GPS receiver to back up odometer readings. Adding those elements will have some cost, but it's not going to be high, certainly no where near the cost of a separate OBC.
There will be a cost to getting that information out of the recorder, and to managing it. Low-cost wireless technologies such as WiFi or Bluetooth can keep those costs in line for fleets that want to automate the process, and standard data-bus wired connections can serve as a no-cost fallback for those that don't want to invest in wireless access. No, cost arguments aren't going to get much credence either.
I think the real reason for opposition to the black box is fear. It will expose those who occasionally cut corners, who rely on the “flexibility” of paper logs to help them deal with unanticipated problems. No one can make that argument publicly, but it's clearly behind some of the opposition. And if we're being honest, it's the reason we're going to have black boxes.
Fleets, even those with the most rigorous log enforcement, have one much understandable fear. Most drivers aren't going to like a big brother approach to HOS, and the fleets, not the government regulators, are going to bear the brunt of that displeasure. There's no getting around the fact that drivers will resent and resist the black box.
Clearly the black box isn't going to be a popular addition to trucking. But the industry still has time to save its public image and show that it can overcome long-held attitudes in the pursuit of safety and the common good.
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