Last month, I blogged about the
National Transportation Safety Board’s Most Wanted List. In the List, the NTSB called for interstate commercial truck and bus companies to install electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs). These recorders automatically keep track of the number of hours a driver has worked and record the date, time, and location.
This electronic recordkeeping helps track semi truck drivers’ Hours of Service (HOS) and provides important information for accident reconstruction. As a St. Louis tractor-trailer crash lawyer, I agree with the NTSB that we should take every precaution to make the roads safer for drivers of all kinds of vehicles.
Driver fatigue is a serious problem for the semi truck industry. Federal laws on truck drivers’ hours of service require that drivers take eight hours off duty for every twelve hours they drive, in order to prevent them from making errors that cause serious accidents. Federal regulations require drivers to keep a log of their hours of service. These logs are often handwritten, with toll receipts to back up their information, so it has been easy for drivers to falsify this information in order to keep working past the hours of service cutoff. According to Logistics Management contributing editor John Schulz, “drivers’ paper log books … often are derisively referred to … as “comic books” because they are so laughably dishonest. Drivers in the past have often kept two log books — one for regulators and the other, accurate, one for getting paid for their actual driving time.”
Some trucking companies that have good safety records have already voluntarily installed EOBRs in their trucks, taking advantage of their capacity to automate and streamline monitoring of drivers, recordkeeping, and communication. The devices have been credited with improving safety and efficiency beyond just the HOS concern, because they can alert drivers when they are driving too fast, braking too hard or idling too much, and help companies precisely predict shipments’ arrivals. Where the large trucking companies see benefits to using EOBRs voluntarily, the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association opposes their use because they see EOBRs as too costly and a potential privacy violation. As a southern Illinois big rig accident attorney, I can’t say that I have a lot of sympathy with the Association’s position, given the potential public safety benefits of EOBRs.
This month, the NTSB has gotten its wish for better oversight — sort of. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has just set a new rule requiring EOBRs in big rigs, but it only applies to trucks driven for carriers whose compliance reviews reveal HOS violations at or above 10%. The rule will go into effect on June 12, 2012, to give manufacturers time to produce EOBRs to specifications. The FMCSA will consider broadening the rule to encompass more trucking companies later this year.
The carriers that are found to have patterns of HOS violations will have to install EOBRs in all their vehicles for at least two years. Watchers predict that this will affect approximately 5,700 carriers by the end of the rule’s first year in effect. This is a higher number than the NTSB had predicted, but it’s still only 0.8% of all carriers in the United States. As a Missouri semi truck accident lawyer, I applaud the FMCSA for going this far, but clearly it needs to go further. According to the FMCSA, there were about 100 fatalities caused by semi truck driver fatigue in 2007. One hundred people lost their lives because truck drivers were too tired to be on the road.
It is a tragedy when families have to endure the loss of their loved ones because a semi truck driver and his or her trucking company would rather make a few extra dollars than follow safety rules. Hours of service regulations exist for public safety reasons, and drivers and their employers have a legal obligation to follow them, whether they are being monitored by EOBRs or not. If they are careless and hurt other drivers on the road, their victims have a legal right to hold them responsible through the civil courts. In a trucking accident lawsuit, families can claim damages for all of the costs of the crash, past and future, as well as compensation for their losses, pain, suffering and any wrongful death or disability. If you or a loved one has been hurt in a collision with a semi truck, please contact Carey, Danis & Lowe for a free consultation to find out about your rights. You can call us at 1-877-678-3400 or contact us online.