In the late Fall of 2011, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit struck down the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (“FMCSA”) rule requiring motor carriers with the most flagrant hours of service (“HOS”) violations to install electronic on-board recorders (“EOBRs”) to monitor HOS compliance. Sounds reasonable, right? The most flagrant HOS violators have 40% higher crash rate than the general motor carrier population, so something needed to be done, right? Nope. Not according to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (“OOIDA”), another powerful trucking industry lobbying group that represents the interests of motor carriers with the most flagrant HOS violations. So, what did OOIDA do? In pursuit of justice for the most flagrant HOS violators, it filed a lawsuit on their behalf to defeat the rule… and it won.
You may be thinking, so what? Why do the trucking companies have to use EOBRs to monitor HOS compliance when 49 C.F.R. § 395.8 requires drivers to record their hours in paper logbooks? The answer is simple and one that the Seventh Circuit acknowledged, “th[e] paper-based system is not free from problems of manipulation and falsification, and those problems have long been a subject of concern.” Put bluntly, drivers and trucking companies have the same incentive to falsify their logbooks that the Enron accountants had in manipulating earnings statements – profit. While the Enron accountants’ deceit ruined lives, the trucking industry’s lies end lives.
So, how do EOBRs ameliorate the problems associated with paper logbooks and the temptation to tamper with them? Simply stated, an EOBR is synchronized with a truck’s engine and a communication device that accurately and automatically records a driver’s HOS and transmits the data to the motor carrier. Therefore, human error computing HOS and, more sinisterly, driver or company manipulation of HOS, can be substantially reduced, if not eliminated. The use of EOBRs to monitor HOS protects truck drivers, as opposed to “harassing” them as OOIDA Vice President Todd Spencer audaciously alleges. Further, EOBRs protect trucking companies, and, most importantly, innocent motorists.
Unlike OOIDA, others in the trucking world recognize that EOBRs are mutually beneficial to the industry and the general public. Specifically, Bill Graves, the President and CEO of an industry lobbying group, the American Trucking Association (“ATA”), stated that the group “supports FMCSA’s efforts to mandate the adoption and use of electronic logging devices for hours-of-service compliance.” Mr. Graves said further, “FMCSA’s research shows that compliance with the current hours-of-service rules is strongly associated with reduced crash risk. Of course, electronic logging devices are an important tool for improving hours of service compliance.” Similarly, U.S. Xpress Co-Chairman and President Pat Quinn, whose $1.4 billion company began implementing EOBRs about four years ago, stated, “It has made our drivers and our operation more efficient. We believe that it also helped our company to maintain our high standards for safety.” Although the order of Mr. Quinn’s reasons for supporting EOBRs evidences the “profit over people” mentality that is pervasive in the industry, his company’s adoption of EOBRs also represents a step in the right direction toward fewer fatigued truck drivers and safer roadways.
Sadly, the Seventh Circuit’s decision compelled the FMCSA to scrap its plan to introduce a final rule in June of this year requiring all trucks, not just the most flagrant HOS violators, to use EOBRs.