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Wednesday, April 27, 2011
New Rules for Truckers Require Electronic Monitoring of Driver’s Hours
A new rule was adopted in April by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) that will require installation of Electronic Onboard Recorders (EOBRs) most interstate commercial vehicles by June of 2015. EOBRs are designed to electronically monitor compliance with Hours of Service (HOS) rules by commercial drivers.
The new rule, which was endorsed by major trucking associations, including the American Trucking Association, the National Private Truck Council, and the Truckload Carriers Association, hasn't been welcomed by all. Many independent truckers look on the rule as an unnecessary regulatory intrusion and an economic burden. Safety advocates however, view the rule as long overdue.
Onboard electronic monitoring of a trucker's speed, and time spent in motion have been around for quite some time and many trucking companies have embraced the technology. Trucking company who use the technology can better determine exactly how long a particular delivery takes and adjust their pricing and contractual delivery time more accurately. Another benefit is safety related. Through the use of GPS and engine monitoring systems, trucking companies can monitor whether or not their drivers are obeying speed limits and complying with HOS rules. The safety benefit has shown to be a great benefit to trucking companies in reduced liability for collisions due to speeding or sleep deprived drivers.
The FMCSA, which regulates interstate commercial vehicles, has been slow to adapt to the new technology, relying instead on hand written log books kept by the drivers to show they are in compliance with the mandatory HOS rules. The problem with that is that hand written logs are notoriously easy to fake and it is difficult to tell whether or not a driver has been on the road too long and is possibly sleep deprived.
A year after the federal HOS rules last changed in 2004, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) conducted a study to see if drivers were complying with the rules that limited their time on the road and required specified rest periods. The study found that 25% of the drivers admitted to driving more hours and the number of drivers who reported driving drowsy or falling asleep at the wheel within the previous month rose from 13% to 15%.
Drivers feel great pressure to meet delivery deadlines, especially when the cargo is perishable or otherwise time sensitive. Many drivers feel compelled to speed or to push on, even when they are drowsy, to meet the contracted delivery schedules. The ability to easily falsify log books, for the most part, eliminated the consequences of non-compliance, unless the speeding or drowsy driving led to a crash.
Driving drowsy is a significant danger for commercial drivers. Since most instances of a collision caused by sleep deprivation require self admission by the driver, it is difficult to come up with accurate figures on the true number of crashes caused by drowsy commercial drivers however, based on surveys and the types of crashes (swerving into adjoining lanes etc.), the IIHS determined that at least 13% (18,000) of crashes involving commercial truckers were due to driver fatigue.
The latest figures from 2009 show that there were 3,163 fatalities in crashes involving large trucks. Truck occupants made up only 14% of the fatalities. Drivers of cars and other passenger vehicles made up 70% of the fatalities with the rest made up of pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. Of those involved in two-vehicle crashes between large trucks and passenger vehicles, 98% of the deaths were the occupants of passenger vehicles.
The new rules requiring electronic monitoring will go into effect in June of 2012 with full compliance required within three years of that date. Both the federal government and trucking associations, say that the EOBR's will make operations smoother and less expensive by eliminating the inefficient paper trail and allowing an automatic download of driver records at state inspection stations. Safety advocates laud the new regulations in the hope that they will help to end instances of fatigued drivers pushing on long after federal regulations say they should have pulled off the road to rest.