By Paul Cullen Jr., THE CULLEN LAW FIRM
What if someone created an electronic on-board recorder that allowed a driver to operate a truck in violation of the hours-of-service rules for 11 hours before it recorded a violation of the rules? Would such a device improve compliance with the hours-of-service rules? Of course not.
But that is exactly the kind of EOBR the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has mandated.
Proponents of EOBRs believe that their benefits are obvious because EOBRs automatically record when an individual is on-duty driving. They believe EOBRs cannot be manipulated like paper log books, and they can record exactly when a driver begins to violate the hours-of-service rules.
These beliefs betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the hours-of-service rules and EOBRs.
To keep it simple for those unfamiliar with HOS, the following explanation puts aside the various restart provisions and sleeper berth rules.
Calculating a driver’s compliance with the HOS rules requires more than just a record of an individual’s driving time. Under the basic HOS rules a driver may begin driving only after being off-duty for at least 10 straight hours. Therefore, an EOBR must also record what a driver is doing when he is not driving – whether he is working (still on-duty) or is off-duty.
EOBRs cannot automatically record this information. Just like paper logbooks, EOBRs require drivers to manually enter their changes in non-driving duty status. FMCSA admits that no EOBR exists that automatically performs this function.
If a driver were to park his truck for 10 hours, but actually worked for some part of that time, the HOS rules would not permit driving. But if the time is incorrectly logged as off-duty, the EOBR would permit the driver to operate in what appeared to be full compliance with the rules for up to 11 hours.
What kind of an improvement in HOS compliance, or improvement in safety, is gained by an enforcement tool with such a large margin of error?
Is it really worth the cost and intrusion into privacy being imposed on the public?
Of course if a driver properly logs his non-driving time as on-duty or off-duty, the EOBR will report the accurate status of the driver’s compliance with the rules. But are such drivers the reason why some believe EOBRs are needed?
The hours-of-service rules are complex. While it’s disappointing, it is understandable how some people with just a cursory understanding of the HOS rules would embrace EOBRs.
Policymakers would be well advised to become more familiar with the deficiencies of EOBRs, or they may become sorely disappointed in their failure to improve highway safety. LL