Proposed Federal Mandatory Electronic Onboard Recorders in Commercial Vehicles

By January 29, 2007Trucking Regulations

In my experience in dealing with trucking companies, it is one of the worst kept secrets in the industry that many over-the-road truck drivers falsify the log books that they are required to keep pursuant to federal regulations. In an attempt to address this situation as needed, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration on January 11th proposed federal regulations that would require certain truck and bus companies with a history of serious hours of service violations to be required to install electronic on-board recorders in all of their commercial vehicles for a minimum of two years. The proposed rule would also encourage industry wide use of on-board recording devices which are sometimes referred to as black boxes by providing incentives for voluntary use. This rule would also for the first time mandate that these recorders keep track of hours of service data and location tracking information, such as global positioning systems data. The current federal performance standards for the recorders already in use by trucking fleets date back to 1988 before wide-spread use of GPS, wireless communications were in common use.
As an attorney who practices in the trucking accident area, I personally believe that it is long past due that trucking companies be required to use recorders on their commercial vehicles. This rule is a start by targeting the worst offenders, and providing incentives to encourage industry use of recorders, as well as to update performance standards on the recorders. This type of data in a trucking accident, can lead to objective data to prove who was actually at fault in a truck crash.
The proposed rule requires the use of recorders that track the driver’s duty status, identity, date, time and location among carriers against trucking companies who demonstrated a 10% or greater violation rate, for any of the hours regulations as determined by compliance reviews during a two year period. Trucking and bus companies that meet this criteria would have to equip their entire fleets with recorders for a minimum of two years. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimated that 930 trucking companies and common carriers and 17,500 drivers would fall under this requirement if the rule took effect as of June 11, 2007.
The FMCSA stated that it would like the recorders to be more common among the 650,000 motor carriers in the United States. The proposed rule also contained another incentive for trucking companies to update their fleets now before the new rule takes effect. Under the proposed rule, once the final rule takes effects it would start a two year time period which newly installed recorders would have to meet the new technical requirements of the rule. Trucking companies that voluntarily install recorders before that time would be allowed to continue using those devices for the life of the truck. According to the FMCSA, the goal is to get more trucks and buses using innovative safety technologies and that on-board recorders that will improve safety on the nation’s highways.
The American Trucking Association, a truck driver organization, announced its support of the proposed rule. The ATA stated that it was pleased that the Department of Transportation has taken another step toward assuring future gains in improved highway safety. The ATA President, Bill Graves, stated that “We support this incentive-based approach to the use of electronic on-board recorders. Technology can play a significant role in enhancing road safety and help to ensure the reliability of commercial vehicle operations.”
I also support these proposed rules. Under the current hours of service rules, a truck driver can drive as many as 8 uninterrupted hours in a day, and can drive additional hours after a mandated rest. With these liberal regulations, drivers who violate those regulations are a hazard on the road and if it is known that their companies will have objective evidence that they violated these rules, they will be much more likely to comply with the safety based rules.