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Electronic Onboard Recording Devices Get Mixed Reviews from Trucking Industry

3 min read

Roughly the size of an iPhone, an electronic onboard recording device does not take up much space in the cab of an 18-wheeler.

The tiny device has, however, become a huge topic of conversation in the trucking industry.

By January 2016 it is likely that all drivers will be required to install EOBRs in their vehicles as a means of monitoring hours of service. Proponents see it as a way to make driving more efficient and point to it as the first real change to the act of logging hours of service since the 1930s. Opponents view the replacement for paper logs as an intrusive instrument that will make life more difficult for drivers than it already is.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration wants to outfit long-haul commercial vehicles, trucks and buses with EOBRs. Ultimately, the goal is safer roadways. By getting an accurate measure of when drivers are on the road, the FMCSA believes that drivers — already under new hours-of-service rules that went into effect on July 1 — will be on the road less, cutting down on fatigue and, in theory, accidents.

As they have done with hair drug testing, members of the Trucking Alliance (both J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc. of Lowell and North Little Rock’s Maverick belong) have lent their support to the use of EOBRs. They see it primarily as a way to improve safety, eliminating the underreporting of hours, something one local trucking official calls “the worst-kept secret in the industry.” The Arkansas Trucking Association also supports putting EOBRs on board each truck.

Plus, the devices can help improve relationships between dispatchers and drivers because both sides will have an accurate measure of hours driven. Neither dispatcher nor driver can take advantage of the other in hopes of getting more hours or getting more work. This, proponents say, will improve the efficiency of scheduling and make interaction friendlier between drivers and their home bases.

Cost is, of course, a concern. High-end EOBRs can come with a price tag of nearly $2,000. Depending on the size of a company’s fleet, even the low-end cost of $300 to $400 per truck can be an intimidating prospect. In theory, the improved operational efficiency will ultimately make up for the increased cost.

Where opponents of EOBRs really have problems with the devices is in determining just how necessary and driver-friendly the technology really is.

There is undoubtedly an element of “Big Brother is watching” that makes drivers and owner-operators nervous about installing EOBRs. Few of us are comfortable with the thought of willingly allowing the government to track our movements (especially when we’re out on the open road and have the cruise control set in that 5-to-9-miles-per-hour-faster-than-the-speed-limit window in which most of us operate).

EOBR data — hours logged, speed driven, stops made — in individual trucks is not likely to be monitored on a daily basis by the government (or law enforcement officials). In fact, other than group data collected for the continued tweaking of regulations, little of the information will be shared outside of specific trucking operations. But surely we can sympathize with those who are nervous about the prospect of having their every move monitored.

Perhaps the biggest issue that drivers have with EOBRs is that the device eliminates flexibility in their schedules. Anybody who has punched a time clock understands what a pain it can be. Many folks are happy to be given a task and a deadline. They don’t want to account for every second spent in accomplishing that task, and if they happen to get finished early, they’d like to just call it a week.

EOBRs make that more difficult for drivers to do. There’s no opportunity for them — let’s use an analogy from your office — to turn a late Friday lunch into an early weekend.

There is still time for tweaks to be made to the proposed regulations, though it is doubtful much will change between now and the end of the year. Regulations mandating EOBRs won’t likely be official until January 2014, and companies will then have two years to become compliant.

How long it takes for companies and drivers to become comfortable with having the EOBRs remains to be seen, of course.

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