In early November, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a supplemental notice of proposed rulemaking (SNPRM) to clarify and strengthen the requirements for the supporting documents that motor carriers use to verify the accuracy of driver logbooks.

The federal notice emphasizes the requirement that all carriers must monitor logbook accuracy using external time/date and location information. Further, the agency stated that the carrier's system must be capable of verifying the accuracy of their drivers' logbooks with respect to time, location and mileage for every trip.

FMCSA also wants to clarify the definition of employee to ensure that owner-operators are included in oversight requirements.

These strengthened requirements are the result of a 1994 Congressional mandate contained in the Hazardous Materials Transportation Authorization Act. That mandate required FMCSA “to improve both driver and motor carrier compliance with the HOS (hours of service) regulations and the effectiveness and efficiency of HOS enforcement.”

That's right, this provision has been nearly ten years in the making. Part of the reason for the delay is that the agency has put forth proposals on two previous occasions that were halted or revised during its larger rewrite of HOS.

Although requirements for supporting documents were part of the May 2000 HOS proposal, they were targeted primarily at longhaul and regional operations as part of the agency's attempt to require different HOS rules for different segments of the industry. When the final rule was written, however, the agency did not include a requirement for supporting documents for driver logs.

Now the agency is formally addressing the supporting documents issue as part of its larger HOS rewrite, which resulted from the July 16, 2004, District Court of Appeals directive to vacate the January 2004 rules.

The current proposal would require motor carriers to develop a log falsification detection system that includes the following:

  • Document matching: All documents must be maintained in a way that enables government inspectors to easily cross-reference the original logbook form with each accompanying supporting document.

  • Document retention: Supporting documents must be kept for six months.

  • Accuracy standards: Carriers must prove that their auditing system results in a falsification rate that's no more than 10%.

  • Agency directed monitoring: If FMCSA determines that a carrier's system is inadequate, it can prescribe specific changes.

  • Civil penalties: Penalties will be assessed for violations such as alteration of supporting documents, failure to have an effective system, and failure to maintain documents for the required six-month period.

This SNPRM further cements FMCSA's position in HOS reform. First, it would require the collection of supporting documents from all commercial motor vehicle drivers acting on behalf of a motor carrier, including owner-operators and leased drivers. Second, it would require a comprehensive auditing system to ensure the trip accuracy of each daily log. The effort required of establishing and maintaining a paper-based system would be significant.

The proposal would allow carriers to be exempt from a paper-based system if they choose instead to use some type of electronic system, such as on-board recorders, global positioning system (GPS) and/or vehicle identifier transponders.

I know which option I would take. But that matter will be for you decide within the coming months. The time to prepare is now.

Jim York is the manager of Zurich Service Corp.'s Risk Engineering Transportation Team, based in Schaumburg, IL.