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Senator wants on-board recorders

U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., has asked the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to reconsider electronic on-board recorders, citing recent high-profile truck accidents in her state.

Her Nov. 15 letter to John Hill, FMCSA administrator, asked whether the agency has the authority to require the devices and whether it is considering mandating them. She also asked whether Hill proposed another way to address driver fatigue.

Feinstein cited the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which claims that a third of drivers omit hours from log books and that the percentage of truckers asleep at the wheel at least once in the past month increased from 13 percent in 2003 to 21 percent in 2005.

European trucks already have non-electronic tachographs, and two years ago, the European Union began requiring new trucks to have electronic recorders, Feinstein said.

In January 2007, the FMCSA proposed a rule to establish performance standards for recorders and incentives to encourage their voluntary installation. The proposed rule would mandate the recorders, however, only for carriers that have serious and continued violations of the hours rule twice within a two-year period.

Although the American Trucking Associations generally supports the proposal’s approach, “the agency must make important changes to the proposed rule to make it effective and promote use of EOBRs,” the ATA stated in its submitted comments. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposes the devices.

In her opening paragraph, Feinstein mentioned a May 4 wreck on I-5 in Orange County that killed three children and an Oct. 12 pile-up that killed three people and destroyed the tunnel beneath the Golden State and Antelope Valley freeways. “These devastating crashes in California highlight the cost of not moving forward with common sense measures that could make our highways safer,” she wrote.

Whether fatigue or hours violations were involved in either incident is unclear. The fiery Antelope Valley crash involved dozens of trucks, and its cause may never be known. As for the May 4 wreck, Jorge Miguel Romero, who was driving the truck that rear-ended a minivan, faces three misdemeanor charges of vehicular manslaughter and has had his CDL revoked. Prosecutors have mentioned speeding, tailgating and negligence as factors.

The parents of the dead children, Chris and Lori Coble, have joined the activist Truck Safety Coalition in lobbying for on-board recorders. They also have announced they are expecting triplets.

The complete text of Feinstein’s letter is posted at her website.

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