EOBRs staged to become law

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Updated Jul 6, 2012

The long-anticipated mandate for electronic onboard recording devices (EOBRs) took another — and perhaps final — step towards becoming reality.

The U.S. House and Senate reached agreement on June 29 to pass a highway reauthorization bill. The bill directs the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to announce a new regulation to mandate the use of EOBRs within 12 months of the bill’s passage. The bill is scheduled to reach President Obama’s desk by Friday, July 6. The new regulation will be enforced 24 months after the announcement.

According to this timetable, the FMCSA will have until July 2013 to issue a new EOBR regulation and enforcement will begin July, 2015. The full details of the new EOBR regulation may be known in February, 2013, when the agency has scheduled a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM).

“While the new EOBR mandate was expected due to its broad industry support, the recently passed highway bill will serve to level the playing field for HOS compliance and improve safety overall in the transportation industry,” said Dave Kraft, director of industry affairs for Qualcomm Enterprise Services, which has nearly 150,000 EOBR application users across more than 500 fleets.    

The agency began working on a new regulation last fall after its 2010 “final” rule on electronic logging devices was vacated by a federal court. The court ruled in favor of a lawsuit by the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association that claimed EOBRs can be used by fleets to harass drivers. The highway bill directs the FMCSA to ensure that the devices are “not used to harass a vehicle operator.”

How the agency plans to ensure non-harassment is anyone’s guess. To read more about the harassment issue, click here.

The new highway bill contained a number of technology requirements for EOBRs. All of them have previously been addressed and defined by the agency’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee (MCSAC), says Tom Cuthbertson, vice president of regulatory compliance for Xata Corporation, a provider of EOBR technology. Cuthbertson was one of the participants in defining technology specifications for MCSAC.

The committee submitted a set of recommendations for EOBR specifications following the court’s dismissal of the 2010 EOBR rule. The recommendations were made with comprehensive review and input from key industry stakeholders.

One of MCSAC’s recommendations was to create a secure way to transfer driver hours-of-service information to inspection software systems used by law enforcement. The method involves telematics, web services and encryption technology. When prompted by the driver, an EOBR device in the vehicle creates a secure PIN number. The driver passes the number to an inspection officer to input into a web-based software system to retrieve the driver’s current hours-of-service information from a remote server or “the cloud.” The PIN changes each time it is generated.

In addition, the agency is planning to use new wireless inspection methods for EOBR log enforcement. These methods are expected to use expanded data for GPS and more detailed vehicle sensor data for computerized analysis of log data compliance and system integrity, Kraft says.

Cuthbertson says MCSAC concluded that between 12 and 14 months were needed for EOBR suppliers to modify their existing technology to adopt to the new specifications. This fits well within the 24-month period that would start in July of 2013, assuming things go as planned.

Xata has created a website, www.EOBR.com that provides information for drivers, owner operators and fleets about EOBR technology and regulations, including more information about the new highway bill.