The long-awaited EOBR rule for truck and bus companies was handed down as the U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published the final rule in the Federal Register today, and that final rule may be a shock to some fleets.

“We are committed to cracking down on carriers and drivers who put people on our roads and highways at risk,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “This rule gives us another tool to enforce hours-of-service restrictions on drivers who attempt to get around the rules.”

The rule, which will go into effect June 1, 2012, will affect carriers with 10% or greater hours-of-service (HOS) violations during a single compliance review. That is a significant change from the original proposal, made back on Jan. 11, 2007, by then FMCSA Administrator John H. Hill.

Hill’s original proposal called for the 10% rate to be based over two yearly audits. But he supported the change to a single compliance review failure in earlier testimony before Congress.

“I told Congress the agency should go back and look at [requiring two compliance review failures],” he said in a phone interview with Fleet Owner. “If a carrier has a severe crash and is clearly in violation of HOS regulations, you don’t want to have to wait for a second crash to require EOBRs.”

According the rule, carriers that fail will be required to install EOBRs (electronic on-board recorders) in all their vehicles for a minimum of two years. It also mandates technical reporting standards for the devices, such as recording the date, time and location of a driver’s duty status.

An offending carrier “will then be required to install EOBRs in all of its CMVs regardless of their date of manufacture and use the devices for HOS recordkeeping for a period of 2 years, unless the carrier, (i), already equipped its vehicles with automatic on-board recording devices (AOBRDs) meeting the agency’s current requirements under 49 CFR 395.15 prior to the finding, and, (ii), demonstrates to FMCSA that its drivers understand how to use the devices,” FMCSA said.

Additional changes include a new safety fitness standard to take into account a remedial directive when determining fitness and to allow examination of a random sample of driver’s records of duty status after the initial sample.

The complete rule is available here.

One carrot for the carriers is relief from some of FMCSA’s HOS supporting documents, such as toll receipts to check the accuracy of a driver’s log, if the carrier voluntarily adopts EOBRs.

DOT estimates that some 5,700 carriers will be required to use EOBRs after the first year of implementation. That is up significantly from 2007 estimates of approximately 1,000 carriers. But that population may grow quickly as FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro said the agency will consider broadening the rule later this year.

“Safety is our highest priority,” said Ferro. “In addition to requiring EOBRs for carriers that have already demonstrated a pattern of hours-of-service violations, we will initiate a rulemaking later this year that considers an EOBR mandate for a broader population of commercial motor carriers.”

Hill believes the agency is preparing to respond to a possible Congressional mandate requiring the automated log system for all carriers.

“If you look at the draft of Congressman James Oberstar’s highway reauthorization bill, it includes a mandate for all carriers to have EOBRs,” Hill said. “I suspect [FMCSA] is reading the tealeaves and trying to get ahead of Congress since the bill sets a very tight timetable for implementation.”

Fleets have been waiting for quite some time for the rule. The rule was scheduled to be completed before the Bush Administration left office, but delays and then the change in administrations pushed the final rule off.

The American Trucking Assns. (ATA) supported the original proposal in 2007, but had cooled toward the idea by last summer when Oberstar, chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, inserted the mandatory requirement for EOBR’s in the Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009, aka the highway transportation bill.

“The cost of electronic logging equipment is substantial, and if there is a federal mandate for the equipment in order to improve federal and state enforcement efforts, there should be federal funding assistance for it,” ATA wrote to Oberstar.

NPTC president and CEO Gary Petty, in written comments to FMCSA submitted in 2007, noted that the organization agreed with FMCSA “that a mandate for use of EOBRs by all operators of commercial motor vehicles is neither necessary nor advisable.”

NPTC did support allowing motor carriers to use EOBRs on a voluntary basis for hours of service compliance, however, and also supported the then-proposed requirement that a driver operating a commercial motor vehicle equipped with an EOBR must use the device to record duty status.

The organization also recommended that FMCSA expand incentives for fleets to further encourage the use of EOBR technology. In particular, NPTC “strongly recommended” that the final rule permit those carriers using EOBRs to record driver hours of service to dispense with all supporting documents, including on-duty, not-driving and off-duty status.