Cover Story
The big squeeze
With electronic on-board recorders, an employer controlling your every move could stretch your driving hours to the limit without regard for nutrition, exercise, your personal needs or whether your pet needs to find a patch of grass. In those carriers' zeal to maximize productivity, your need to be flexible and use your own professional judgment to plan your trip gets sacrificed in the name of ….The big squeeze

A court action last year by OOIDA forced the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to vacate its initial rulemaking on electronic on-board recorders because the agency failed to deal with the fact that EOBRs could be used to harass drivers. In response to that court order, the FMCSA finally removed the rule from the books in mid-May.

In spite of being forced to vacate that rule, the feds continue to press forward on a separate regulatory action that could lead to an industry-wide mandate for EOBRs.

If that happens, or if Congress mandates EOBRs in the pending highway bill, your flexibility and judgment as a professional would get kicked to the curb by employers seeking to maximize productivity. That means you could be forced to drive every available hour of your work clock without regard for rest, exercise, nutrition or the need to get off the road for a while when you're feeling tired.

OOIDA and small-business truckers continue to fight back and need your help to defeat this costly and infringing mandate.

The Association issued Calls to Action to members in late April and early May as lawmakers in the House and Senate convened to negotiate a final version of a multiyear transportation bill. As Land Line went to press, an EOBR mandate was still possible in the bill.

Truckers have many reasons to keep fighting.

According to a White House report requested by Republican leadership last summer, a mandate for electronic on-board recorders ranks in the top seven most costly regulatory actions in the administration's pipeline – at a whopping $2 billion. That's twice the cost of recent changes to the hours-of-service regulation, which also made the list of most costly regs.

OOIDA questions the need for truckers to spend money on an unproven technology that is no more effective than paper logs when it comes to safety and hours-of-service compliance.

"The device only tracks when the wheels are moving, not taking into consideration the colossal waiting times spent by truck drivers at shipping docks," OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said. "Plus, we hear every day from truckers whose companies use the devices to improve 'productivity,' which actually means harassing truckers into driving more hours."

The issue of driver harassment was front and center during a recent FMCSA listening session on April 26 in Bellevue, WA. The feds designed the session to generate ideas for dealing with the harassment issue in future actions.

At this session – like the one held at Mid-America Trucking Show in March – FMCSA sought info from the industry on factors and data it should consider as the agency addresses the distinction between productivity and harassment. A number of speakers representing large motor carriers were present. And despite the lack of truck parking anywhere near the hotel, truck drivers were also well represented.

"You cannot enhance safety statistics until you address the root of the problem in this industry," independent trucker Tilden Curl told regulators. Curl, an OOIDA member from Olympia, WA, and the 2010 Goodyear Highway Hero, told the panel that "we as an industry are suffering from regulatory fatigue. It's penalty driven, rather than reward driven."

Curl said drivers he has talked to, mostly using a Qualcomm system, have complained about not having enough hours to complete a task. "Then those hours magically appeared on their log," he told the panel.

The listening panel included top brass from FMCSA, including the Jack Van Steenburg, assistant administrator and chief safety officer, Larry Minor, associate administrator for policy, and others.

Counter attack
OOIDA Senior Member George Cherveny is leased to Landstar. He and his wife, Mary Knotts – a former safety manager with FedEx National – made the trip to Bellevue to make comments in person and have his views entered into the official record. Cherveny, who now resides in Olympia, covered a lot of ground with his well-prepared remarks on hours-of-service enforcement, especially detention on the docks.

After the session, Cherveny told Land Line that it was not his first trip to a listening session. He used to live in Kansas City, MO, and had joined OOIDA's regulatory staff for a meeting there years ago.

"I was home in Olympia, just did a load from Texas to Washington, and I heard on 'Land Line Now' that it was happening, so I wanted to do it. It was an opportunity. And I wanted to say something to FMCSA about what is happening with the new rules in Australia and urge them to look at this."

Under a new set of road safety rules in Australia, truck drivers will be paid reasonably for their work, including time spent at the loading docks. The goal of the new law is to reform the system that allows shippers and others in the supply chain to harass drivers into breaking speed and fatigue laws to meet deadlines.

Big-business trucking was well-represented at the listening session. A representative from Schneider National said EOBRs would act as a "pressure release valve" for drivers, and that responsible carriers respect when a driver is out of hours.

Don Lacey, safety director for Prime Inc., said Prime had not got one complaint about EOBRs from their drivers. Jerry Johnson, a representative from PAM Transportation, said most of his drivers loved the EOBR. He said the EOBR was an outstanding management tool. Speaker Guy Welton of Werner Enterprises said, "Machines don't cause harassment; people do."

OOIDA presented examples of harassment in the form of a Qualcomm dialog between a driver and motor carrier. After the driver was dispatched, there appeared to be constant calls, even when the driver was sleeping, checking on him and reminding him how important the load was and stressing it could "not be late." When the driver didn't respond to Qualcomm (he was in sleeper berth), the company went to phone calls.

FMCSA's Van Steenburg told attendees that the session was "really informative."

"We are getting great, great comments," he said. "I'm learning a lot."

Cart before the horse
In early May, OOIDA sent letters urging House and Senate lawmakers to reject EOBRs in the surface transportation bill.

In the letter, Spencer questioned why Congress would move forward with a mandate since the recent hours-of-service rule change is still in dispute and since EOBRs are an unproven technology.

"To require such a mandate before the rule is even settled is putting the cart way before the horse to say the least, particularly absent any research to indicate that EOBRs will improve upon compliance as a whole," he said. LL