FMCSA would mandate recorders for serious offenders

Updated Apr 5, 2010

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced today, Jan. 11, that it is proposing to require electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs) for motor carriers that have demonstrated serious noncompliance with the hours-of-service rules. In announcing the proposal, FMCSA Administrator John Hill said that the agency has identified 930 motor carriers employing approximately 17,500 drivers that have a pattern of violations and would be subject to mandatory EOBRs if the rule were in effect today.

In a related announcement, Hill said the agency will not be issuing the HOS supporting documents rule that the White House Office of Management cleared almost four months ago. FMCSA has discovered errors in the paperwork analysis portion of its required studies and reviews, he said. Hill, speaking at a news conference, did not detail how those errors would affect the substance of the final supporting documents rule, although he implied that the paperwork cost estimates would rise substantially, potentially requiring a softening of the rule’s mandates. “We will be issuing a timeline in the next couple of weeks.”

FMCSA’s decision to mandate recorders only in situations where public safety dictated was based on the agency’s reviews, including a cost-benefit analysis, Hill said. “Companies most likely to be a safety hazard on the road will be the focus,” he said. “EOBRS will help ensure these important rules are followed.”

The threshold for ordering a carrier to install EOBRs would be a finding based on a review of hours-of-service records during each of two compliance reviews conducting within a two-year period that the carrier had a 10 percent or greater violation rate for any of the hours-of-service regulations. Such carriers would be required to install EOBRs in all their commercial motor vehicles, regardless of the date of manufacturer, for a period of two years.

The agency also is proposing to revamp the performance standards for EOBRs that would apply to devices installed either voluntarily or on a mandatory basis on trucks built on or after two years from the effective date of the final rule. Current performance standards for automatic onboard recorders, which numerous trucking fleets have chosen to use for managing compliance, date back to 1988 – long before widespread use of the Global Positioning System (GPS), wireless communications or even technologies for rapidly and reliably downloading data.

The proposal would require EOBRs to record basic information needed to track a driver’s duty status, including identity of the driver; duty status; date, time and location of the commercial vehicle; and distance traveled. FMCSA also would require systems to use GPS technology or other location tracking systems to automatically identify the location of the vehicle. Although motor carriers using onboard recorders would have to use devices meeting these standards on trucks built after a certain date, they could continue to use existing devices until the trucks in which they are installed are retired.

In addition, FMCSA is proposing several incentives for motor carriers to voluntarily install EOBRs, including revising the compliance review standards to permit examination of a random sample of drivers’ records of duty status and partial relief from HOS supporting documents requirements if certain conditions are met.

“The goal is to get more trucks and buses using innovative safety technologies like onboard recorders that will improve safety on our nation’s roads,” Hill said.

The American Trucking Associations announced its support for the proposed rule. “We are pleased that DOT has taken another solid step toward ensuring future gains in improved highway safety,” said Bill Graves, ATA president and chief executive officer. “We support this incentive-based approach to the use of electronic onboard recorders. Technology can play a significant role in enhancing road safety and help to ensure the reliability of commercial vehicle operation.”

In response to a new policy adopted by its membership, ATA has pushed for a pilot program that would determine the effectiveness of EOBRs in improving compliance and safety performance, while also addressing the industry’s diverse nature, Graves said. ATA also believes that incentives would assist motor carriers in adopting the technology.

However, advocacy group Public Citizen says FMCSA failed the public by releasing what it considers “a very weak standard for electronic onboard recorders.”

“EOBRs in all trucks hold great promise for detecting – and deterring – violations of the hours-of-service rules,” says Joan Claybrook, Public Citizen president. “Hours-of-service rules are intended to protect all of us – truckers themselves, as well as everyone else on the highways – from the grave risks of having overworked, exhausted drivers on the nation’s roads. But FMCSA has squandered a real opportunity to protect the public.

“Instead of mandating onboard recorders in all commercial trucks with a fair, across-the-board standard, FMCSA today released a proposed rule that would require recorders only for trucking companies that have been caught significantly violating hours-of-service rules,” Claybrook says. “We know that many more companies violate these rules because their drivers keep fake logbooks – which are so legendarily erroneous that they are known in the trade as ‘comic books’ – but they are not detected. Under the FMCSA rule, these scofflaws can continue to violate the law without consequences and put the public at risk.

“These recorders should be mandated in an across-the-board standard that treats all companies equally,” Claybrook says. “The public deserves much more than this.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association says it believes the EOBR proposal is a misdirected attempt to deal with the root causes of hours-of-service violations.

“While the proposal put forth by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration does not require the entire trucking industry to install EOBRs and is limited to the worst HOS violators, it will still do nothing to assist drivers to comply with HOS regulations while they are still being economically threatened by motor carriers, shippers and receivers,” OOIDA says in a statement. “Congress directed the FMCSA to consider onboard recorders in trucks. However, lawmakers also directed the agency to address loading and unloading time. Until the FMCSA resolves this drivers’ safety dilemma and the hours-of-service scheme, technology as a solution will be little more than expensive eyewash.

“The FMCSA’s solution to hours-of-service enforcement goes long on Big Brother and short on the real issue,” OOIDA says. “FMCSA continues to ignore the inescapable fact that such devices are no more capable than paper logs in providing an accurate record of a driver’s compliance with the hours-of-service rules. As long as an EOBR records only the movement of a truck, and requires a driver to manually input his or her on-duty not driving time, it will fail to be what EOBR supporters wish them to be – a tamper-proof record of HOS compliance.”

OOIDA feels the real hours issue related to fatigue isn’t time spent behind the wheel driving that can be monitored by recorders. “It’s the 30 to 40 or more hours drivers spend each week on loading and unloading docks that will not be captured by these devices. Drivers, who are almost always paid only for miles driven, have no ability to change this colossal waste of their time. And shippers, receivers and carriers have little or no incentive to address this waste since it costs them nothing – and it can even be a profit center for some.

“Given the clearly demonstrated shortcomings of EOBRs, it is astounding that FMCSA would consider economic incentives to encourage motor carriers to buy this technology while providing zero incentive or support to professional drivers squeezed in the economic/regulatory vise,” OOIDA concludes. “Unfortunately, this proposal could even have a negative impact on highway safety. Many carriers already use recording/monitoring devices to push drivers to maximize their on-duty hours, regardless of the drivers’ need for rest.”

Public comments on the proposed rule will be accepted through April 18. Although the NPRM will not be published in the Federal Register until Jan. 18, a copy is available in TIF and PDF format on the Department of Transportation’s Document Management System. To download the document, go to and search Docket No. 18940. Then select “Reverse Order.” The NPRM is 18940-357.