The beatings will continue until morale improves

By David Tanner, associate editor

Recent statements by the American Trucking Associations that electronic on-board recorders improve driver morale are insulting to say the least.

ATA President and CEO Bill Graves made the claim in late April as part of the association's push to get Congress to mandate EOBRs in all trucks. It shows just how far the ATA is willing to go to further its agenda.

Graves started off his comments by saying EOBRs can help trucking operations improve routes, as well as manage fuel usage and other aspects involved with a fleet.

"In addition, research shows that drivers at fleets using electronic logging devices report improved morale," Graves said. He then urged lawmakers to join "the vast majority in the trucking industry who want to further improve trucking's compliance and safety record."

These statements are insulting, and here's why. For starters, the ATA does not represent or speak for drivers. Secondly, EOBR tracking technology likely has the opposite effect on driver morale.

Truckers have been subjected to pressure to meet delivery schedules set by other people since the beginning. Job pressure to keep moving can range from encouragement and incentives to outright harassment and threats.

Drivers routinely get calls and messages during breaks and rest periods and are ordered to keep those wheels turning. As long as a driver has available hours left, he or she is expected to move at all costs.

The harassment issue is one of the main reasons OOIDA sued and beat the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration's initial rule on electronic on-board recorders in court.

Why then would the ATA, or anyone else for that matter, think that EOBRs would improve driver morale? An EOBR is no different than any other method or device used to keep the truck wheels turning – without regard to whether a driver is tired or in serious need of a break.

Points about efficiency and productivity are one thing, but that hardly qualifies something like an EOBR for a government mandate. Big-business trucking can try to make an argument about safety, but they have nothing to show EOBRs would improve safety over paper logs.

Because an EOBR only logs the time the truck is moving, there's no accounting for other industry pressures and hours-of-safety concerns such as uncompensated detention time at the docks or shutting the truck off throughout the day to throw off the clock.

If tired drivers are forced to keep driving because an EOBR says they have time left on the clock, then how does that improve safety?

Safety stats for trucking are as positive as they've ever been, yet truckers continue to face an ever-broadening onslaught of laws and regulations as if the numbers were getting worse. Talk about a blow to driver morale.

Here's something else we found interesting.

The FMCSA has announced it is looking for carriers to participate in a survey about on-board safety systems and driver performance.

These include driver behavior monitoring, lane and roadway departure warning, forward collision warning, fatigue monitoring, alcohol detection, automated onboard recording of driver logs, and continuous naturalistic data collection.

No doubt the FMCSA has "improved driver morale" in mind, as well. LL