FMCSA takes another look at EOBR use for commercial drivers

| 9/1/2004

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration wants comments by the end of November related to possible requirements that carriers use electronic onboard recorders to document their compliance with the hours-of-service regulations.

The action is related to a U.S. Court of Appeals decision that threw out revised HOS rules. The court said the rules didn’t consider driver health issues. It also said FMCSA should have collected and analyzed data on the costs and benefits of requiring EOBRs.

FMCSA’s early position on the issue was that EOBR costs and benefits were unknown, because cost estimates vary “enormously.”

But the court said: "Nothing prevented the agency from itself estimating the costs. The agency's job is to exercise its expertise to make tough choices about which of the competing estimates is most plausible. … We cannot fathom, therefore, why the agency has not even taken the seemingly obvious step of testing existing EOBRs on the road," the three-judge appeals court said.

FMCSA latest action

In an advance notice of proposed rulemaking published Sept. 1, 2003, in the Federal Register, FMCSA said the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia had concluded that Congress required the agency to collect and analyze data on the costs and benefits of requiring EOBRs.

“Because our current regulations do not reflect the considerable advances in the technology used in current-generation recording devices … we seek information concerning issues that should be considered in the development of improved performance specifications for these recording devices,” the Sept. 1 ANPR said. “Our purpose is to ensure that any future requirements would be appropriate as well as reflect state-of-the-art communication and information management technologies.”

According to published reports, FMCSA also noted a possible link between EOBR use and driver health.

However, one issue of concern, as expressed earlier by the Owner-Operator Independent   Drivers Association, is that EOBRs may be used to violate driver privacy and are essentially ineffective when monitoring compliance.

“The whole subject of EOBRs as a tool for compliance with HOS is that those devices can’t measure what is oftentimes the largest single block of time that drivers spend, and that’s the time spent loading the unloading,” Todd  Spencer, OOIDA’s executive vice president, said.

In its Sept. 1 notice, FMCSA said it’s also seeking comments on a number of issues, including:

  • Synchronization of recorder to a vehicle operation parameter
  • Amendment of records
  • Duty status categories when the vehicle is not moving
  • Ensuring that drivers are properly identified
  • Reporting and presentation (display) formats
  • Audit trail
  • Ability to interface with third-party software for compliance verification
  • Verification of proper operation
  • Testing and certification procedures
  • EOBR maintenance and repair
  • Development of “basic” EOBRs to promote increased carrier acceptance
  • Definitions of terms
  • Potential benefits and costs
  • Incentives to promote EOBR use