On-board HOS recording devices draw fire from trucking industry

Oct. 1, 2004
A PROPOSED mandate for electronic on-board recording devices to document driver compliance with the federal hours-of-service (HOS) rules is receiving

A PROPOSED mandate for electronic on-board recording devices to document driver compliance with the federal hours-of-service (HOS) rules is receiving mixed, but heated reactions from some in the trucking industry.

Although the idea has been around for at least two decades, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) now is considering the feasibility of making the devices mandatory. Meanwhile, FMCSA is seeking comments from carriers by November 30, 2004, on the costs and benefits associated with the recorder.

“The issue facing the trucking industry at this time is one that is well overdue,” says Lance Robinson. Robinson, and others, responded to a query seeking comments on the issue from readers of Modern Bulk Transporter's e-newsletter, Bulk Logistics Trends.

“The onboard device is the only way that the hours of service will be adhered to,” Robinson said. “The fact (is) that the public, law enforcement agencies, the truck drivers and the carriers all want safer roads and a reduction of accidents that will save lives and reduce insurance costs. The problem right now is that a driver can easily make the log book look legal.”

Just how to be sure log books indicate true activity is one of the problems associated with electronic on-board recorders, says Cliff Harvison, president of National Tank Truck Carriers. He told Modern Bulk Transporter that while the truck might be stopped for a period of time indicating drivers were resting, they could be out of the truck on other duties.

FMCSA notice

In addition, FMCSA acknowledges some of the concerns in its notice asking for comments: “We recognize the many challenges in gathering and recording data that is both accurate and sufficient in scope and detail to determine motor carriers' and CMV drivers' compliance with the hours-of-service regulations. One such challenge is verification of non-driving duty status information…Further, it must be designed to prevent duty status activity and time entries from being modified after the fact, while allowing drivers to enter explanatory information in the remarks section.”

Some respondents to the Bulk Logistics Trends query expressed doubts about making the equipment mandatory at this time without further information being obtained. “I believe there are more unanswered questions about on-board recorders than benefits, especially the added cost,” said John Titsworth.

The American Trucking Associations estimates that hardware and installation for global positioning satellite (GPS) tracking devices is more than $1,500 per vehicle and annual communication costs may exceed $1,000 per vehicle, depending on the uses.

However, cost of equipment could be offset by benefits, such as time-saving measures for both drivers and administrators, and reduction in paperwork.

FMCSA's drive to enforce the HOS rules is founded on the goal to reduce traffic accidents. After the terrorists attacks on the United States in 2001, the agency stepped up studies on various tracking technologies as a means to enhance safety and security, particularly for trucks hauling hazardous materials.

Report data

Chuck Cramer, another responder to the Bulk Logistics Trends question, argued that FMCSA accident report data shows that few of the accidents involving a big truck are the cause of the truck or the driver. “So why are they attacking the trucking industry and not the public?” he asks. “If the concern is truly about safety, why aren't the Class B drivers or the drivers of motor coaches, motor homes, big fifth-wheel campers, or boats checked out?”

Among comments for support of the equipment, Robinson noted that the argument involves carriers, but that politicians are unlikely to support an issue that raises costs for their constituents' large and small businesses.

“Maybe the fight isn't on the road, it is in the Washington (DC),” Robinson said. “Common sense dictates that the only way to keep the trucks running legally under the hours of service is that they can be checked at anytime not to catch the driver but to encourage the adherence to the law. This should not be viewed as a negative addition to the trucking industry, but a win for road safety, getting those that should not be in the trucking business out, rewarding those who run legal, and reduction of costs to the owner-operator up to the mega fleets.”

These issues are part of an on-going hours-of-service debate that has occurred as a result of many circumstances, including more trucks on the highways, more demands on carriers to meet shipper requirements, and a growing technology industry.

Device history

On-board recording devices have been in use at least since 1985, according to FMCSA. The agency granted a waiver to Frito-Lay Inc in April 1985 to allow their use as a substitute for handwritten driver logs.

In 1998, FMCSA began a pilot project with Werner Enterprises to use GPS technology and wireless communication to produce driver logs. However, it was determined that the system did not account for driver activity accurately under all conditions, as Harvison stated earlier.

Today, the controversial highway bill now stymied in Congress authorizes $110 million for research and development of intelligent transportation system (ITS) standards in an effort to find methods that can be applied to the transportation industry.

In the interim, more and more carriers are adding various types of equipment used to track vehicles and their performances, as well as the driving habits of drivers. Although some carriers are adverse to technological approaches, many of those favorable to the advantages are signing on. If they haven't purchased, installed, and are operating under various computerized tracking systems, they are investigating the products.

At the same time, many carriers also are trying to reduce costs in order to compete in an industry that has been inflicted with high insurance rates, rapidly vacillating fuel prices, and a declining driver workforce. Adding the cost of installing on-board recorders to the list of operating expenses isn't likely to receive a positive reaction for those who already are operating with tight belts.

While the issue is debated within the industry, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted down an amendment to funding a bill for the Homeland Security Department that would have required all trucks hauling hazardous materials to have satellite tracking devices.

Equipment suppliers

Some of the companies that offer various HOS tracking devices include PeopleNet Canada, @Road, Qualcomm, XATA, and Progressive Data Systems. A visit to the companies' Web sites on the Internet reveals information about their products.

PeopleNet Canada (intouchavl.com), Mississauga, Ontario Canada, supplies the eDriver Logs program that automatically calculates driving hours of service through a combination of a global positioning system (GPS) and PerformX engine diagnostic information. Drivers indicate on duty, off duty, sleeper berth, and driving status through a handheld device or message display. This information is then available to the driver, dispatcher, or compliance officer through the PeopleNet Fleet Manager Web-based interface. The driver's daily report graphically depicts total hours of service and each of the driver's duty status changes.

In addition, drivers can present up-to-date logbook information to law enforcement/Department of Transportation (DOT) officials on demand.

Another company, @Road (atroad.com), Fremont, California, provides a product, Driver Logs, that automatically creates logs after drivers enter duty status information directly into the iDT Internet Data Terminal. The @Road Driver Logs allows review of duty status changes and daily activity summaries. The program sends, saves, and receives all duty status changes for up to two drivers for up to eight days. When a driver switches vehicles, the last eight days of duty status changes are sent to the new vehicle when the first duty status is sent from that vehicle.

Through the company's online GeoManager interface, managers can generate driver's daily log with grid, graph, and RECAP table that is like the standard DOT form. They can print out driver's daily log for signature, generate and download the driver's daily log in PDF format, add, edit, and delete duty status entries and changes, review warnings, violations, and errors.

The latest version of the FleetAdvisor system from Qualcomm (qualcomm.com), San Diego, California, automates all driver logs for the new hours-of-service regulations. The system supports automated full-function, on-board computing, vehicle tracking, integrated back-office software, and real-time wireless communications. With the FleetAdvisor solution, QUALCOMM customers would be paperless where the HOS rules are concerned, according to the company.

The HOS tracking products from XATA (xata.com), Burnsville, MN, eliminates the manual process of collecting or filing driver logs. Paper isn't required anywhere, not in the vehicle, at the domicile or at headquarters, which the company says results in greater efficiency and lower compliance risks. Drivers have the data at their fingertips if they are required to present it at inspection stations.

The XATA OpCenter program automates the process of collecting data and transforming driver logs into reports for pre- and post-trip inspections. DOT logs are electronically sent via batch and/or wireless transfer from the vehicle.

Progressive Data Systems (pds-software.com), Roswell, Georgia, offers a system, Driver Logs, that provides an automated, real-time procedure that audits each driver's logs for compliance with DOT regulations. Controls for handling violations and reporting are designed to maintain compliance with DOT requirements. Additionally, the program supplies information that includes date of last driver physical, commercial driver license expiration date, and a record of past violations.

More information about the issue and how to submit comments to FMCSA can be found in the Federal Register by going to the Internet at access.gpo.gov, scroll to the bottom of the page and under “executive resources” click on the “Federal Register” button. Go to “1994 (Volume 59) through 2004 (Volume 69),” select 2004, and click “go.” The rule is under the September 1, 2004, entry.

About the Author

Mary Davis