New York, NY
EOBRs do not and will never solve the two most pressing Hours Of Service safety concerns:
1. The unknowable, unpredictable and unreasonable detention time at Shippers and Consignees
2. The rapid disappearance of safe parking areas with facilities that enable drivers to comply with the federally-mandated 10-hour rest period.
The Electronic OnBoard Recorder, EOBR, or black box, is substandard technology that leads to driver harassment. Relentlessly and at great expense, the large motor carriers have promoted inclusion of EOBRs in the Senate Highways Bill. Members of the American Trucking Association and technology companies such as Qualcomm stand to reap huge profits by having EOBRs mandated. This is corporate-mandated regulation, the costs of which will ultimately be paid by drivers and the public.
The motor carriers see EOBRs as a fleet management tool to control drivers’ Hours of Service. It even gives the less scrupulous among them the ability to “edit” drivers’ logs.
The makers of EOBRs are simply salivating at the prospect of charging weekly rates for federally-mandated equipment. This windfall will be carried on the backs of small operators such as ourselves — independent owner-operators. While large carriers can negotiate better rates, the small businesses of the trucking arena will become financial hostages. Not only does this threaten our very ability to remain viable, it has much broader repercussions for the industry’s safety performance.
Indeed, there is a need to track truck movements and ensure drivers remain safe under the Hours of Service requirements. This system is already in place and simply needs to be rolled out nationwide. Pre-Pass is cost-effective and in use in many states. If its competitors NorPass and the unexplainable North Carolina Pass were eliminated, Pre-Pass could easily go national.
As team drivers and owner-operators, my husband and I have used both the Pre-Pass and EOBR system. Our own experience, substantiated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s own statistics, shows the bulk of Hours of Service violations are caused by minor logbook errors such as misspelled place names and math errors in calculating hours. We found the EOBR eliminated that problem. However, we also found that carriers use the EOBRs in different ways, some of which are clearly contrary to, and dismissive of, driver safety.
For example, one carrier we worked with used the EOBR as a $35-a-week harassment tool that we had to pay for. Although connected by WiFi, Cellular signals and satellite, the Qualcomm consistently mis-tracked our location, so that once we were loaded and on the road, we were subjected to a never-ending stream of inquiries from the carrier demanding an immediate response.
There are many places in this country where there is no good place to stop to respond to a Qualcomm request. In fact, in many cases, it becomes downright dangerous. Drivers cannot always pull over to respond and the incessant calls disturb the second driver in the sleeper. However, the harassment persisted despite our assurances and complaints.
In fact, this was the actual response we received from one of our complaints. It clearly indicates a total disregard for safety:
“Unfortunately, the computer is never going to be error-proof so if XX is asking you questions about a load, then yes, you need to find a way to contact XX. I understand the Qualcomm is dangerous when only one driver is awake. These alerts weren’t made to be annoying, but this is how XX chooses to track trucks. Our computer is set up that if a truck is showing more than 15 minutes late it will send these alerts. “
We were never late, we were never off route, and we were always well aware of our transit times. Our record is excellent.
The most serious flaw in the EOBR is that it only shows when the truck is moving. It relies on human input for the other three driver functions: Off Duty, Sleeper and On Duty Not Driving. Further, it’s open to abuse. Drivers can spend many more hours on duty than the 14 allowed if the On Duty Not Driving is not flicked on. Hence, EOBRs allow the carriers to “edit” a driver’s hours to provide enough “legal” hours if the carrier so requires.
The FMCSA and Congress are well advised to have every state sign onto the Pre-Pass system. That would enable the DOT to truly monitor movement, as is being done in the western states. Pre-Pass is in use at government weigh stations in many states. Through transponders, cameras and Weigh-In Motion scales, the Pre-Pass monitors the movement of all trucks through a state. It could even send driver a speeding ticket if the driver travels too quickly from scale to scale. The cost is more equitably shared among drivers and carriers and the taxpayer, who also benefits by the safe movement of commercial carriers.
My final argument against mandating EOBRs has to do with the inaction of the FMCSA and DOT on the two key issues I began with. Safe parking areas with facilities for big trucks are rapidly disappearing nationwide, a state of affairs the FMCSA, DOT and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood are well aware of, but have chosen to ignore.
Secondly, it’s increasingly difficult for a driver to plan around unknowable, unforeseeable and unpredictable detention times to ensure she is legally parked for her 10-hour rest period. Yet, the FMCSA continues to shrug its shoulders and defer to Congress as the only authority able to bestow powers allowing the regulation of Shippers and Consignees as part of the entire transportation-safety arena. Australia moved last year to bring Shippers and Consignees into the safety mix.
The FMCSA and DOT have no intention of backing up drivers stuck for unreasonable amounts of time on loading docks — including government loading docks — and running out of hours with no place to go. Drivers are left to fend for themselves, and if they get caught they’re penalized to the full extent of the FMCSA’s new demerit point system.
If the FMCSA and DOT are truly and sincerely concerned about safety, then the safety net must be cast much wider, rather than dropped
entirely on the financial shoulders of already overburdened drivers. Shippers, consignees, carriers, states, counties and cities all make profits or collect revenues from the movement of trucks. Therefore, they must all be responsible for safety, starting with adequate parking facilities.
Otherwise, what is being proposed now will merely result in the extermination of the independent owner-operator in favor of the large motor-carrier. These motor-carriers have already created an anti-safety system by failing to provide adequate working conditions and sufficient pay to stem the staggering turnover rate of drivers. Instead, the FMCSA is teaming up with carriers to install a Pavlov’s dog type of monitoring system so that when they buzz, the drivers will jump.
The trucking industry is no longer representative of the free market system and all its benefits. Regulators instead have chosen to push all of the costs, burdens and legal responsibilities onto those with the least control over the movement of goods — the drivers. Now they propose to make it easier for large carriers to harass drivers by using EOBRs to control our Hours of Service and to provide huge profits to the technology companies paid for by us.
I think our shoulders are about to collapse. More importantly, none of this will improve safety on the roads. Far from it.