Survey says Americans want black boxes in trucks

| Friday, August 06, 2004

A poll commissioned by a highway safety group says the American public overwhelmingly favors placing black boxes in trucks.

The survey, conducted by Lou Harris Polling for the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said 84 percent of those responding to the poll favored forcing truck drivers to install the devices. Three years ago, the same survey questioned fewer people, but still showed a massive majority – 81 percent – favored using the devices in trucks.

The people called by the polling service were asked about black boxes and their ability to enforce the federal hours-of-service rules.

“One of the causes of truck crashes is driver fatigue,” the authors of the survey wrote. “Rules governing the hours a truck driver spends driving a truck are difficult to enforce because drivers keep paper logs that can easily be tampered with or falsified.

“Technology exists like black boxes, costing a few hundred dollars, that can enforce driving rules. Many trucks are already equipped with these black boxes. Would you favor or oppose mandatory installation of such black boxes in big trucks that travel long distances with heavy loads?”

However, Rick Craig, director of regulatory affairs at OOIDA, said the boxes’ capability to enforce the rules is open to question. In fact, he said he is not aware of any hard figures that support their ability to contribute to truck safety.

“For one thing, when that truck is idle, they (black boxes) don’t have a clue as to what is going on,” Craig said. “They don’t know if the guy is in the bunk, they don’t know if the guy is loading and unloading, they don’t know if the guy’s eating lunch.

“They will not accurately reflect what’s going on, whether you’re on-duty or off-duty. They don’t know. Really all the things can detect is whether you’re moving or not.”

Craig said OOIDA opposes compelling trucks to install the devices. But not just because of questions about their accuracy.

“Part of it is privacy issues,” he said. “You’re tracking the truck, you’re tracking the person driving the truck.”

Craig also said the cost of the devices is a barrier for many truckers. He disagreed with the survey’s estimate of how much black boxes would cost a truck driver – “a few hundred dollars.”

“I’ve heard all kinds of figures” regarding the cost of black boxes, Craig said. “I’ve heard as high as $2,000. I’ve heard $500. It depends on what the capabilities are and who manufactures it.”

The survey involved more than 1,000 Americans age 18 and older. Lou Harris Polling conducted the survey through telephone interviews between May 14 and June 3, 2004. The poll has a margin of error of 3 percent.

The group that commissioned the poll, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, is an alliance of consumer, health and insurance organizations.

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

Mark Reddig can be reached at mark_reddig@landlinemag.com.

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