The most important thing for fleet owners to know about the new electronic on-board recorder (EOBR) rule is how it relates to the also-new Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 (CSA 2010) safety rating procedure scheduled to go into effect this November. Combined, these two measures are guaranteed to change the way that all carriers subject to hours-of-service (HOS) regulations operate. By the end of the year, it will be whole new regulatory world out there, even though the new EOBR regulation, FMCSR 395.16, does not officially take effect until June 4, 2012, and does not mandate electronic logs for all fleets.

If that sounds a bit strong, take a closer look at the critical “convergence zone,” where the new regulation and the new rating procedure come together. It centers on two of the seven items on the CSA Scorecard — unsafe driving and fatigued driving (which incorporate hours of service). Unlike the other five CSA categories, a poor rating in just one of these two areas will result in an overall unsatisfactory safety rating for a fleet. Using EOBRs can dramatically reduce the likelihood of that happening, while continuing to rely on paper logs greatly increases the risk.

“CSA 2010 is one of the most significant events that has ever occurred [in the trucking industry], even much more so than mandating electronic logs or EOBRs,” says Norm Ellis, senior vp for Qualcomm Enterprise Services, a unit of Qualcomm Inc. “This will be a great mechanism to take the whole industry and improve it — and not just a step level, but a very large improvement.

“Those who have already adopted EOBRs have a huge head start,” he adds. “Those who have been waiting, perhaps for a government mandate, will be really much more challenged than they realize.”

Like Ellis, Tom Kretsinger Sr., chairman and CEO of American Central Transport (ACT), believes CSA 2010 is a positive step forward toward greater safety for the industry, but he also sees challenges ahead for fleets that aren't already preparing for the new rating system. The Missouri-based truckload carrier has been testing the CSA 2010 system for more than a year now as well as testing various EOBRs. “I think some carriers will find their business model as obsolete as the Polaroid camera,” he says.

The biggest areas of concern for fleets, according to Kretsinger, are right there at that CSA 2010/EOBR convergence zone. Going to electronic logs, he notes, will eliminate many of the potential compliance problems related to hours of service because there are tighter controls on a driver's time and less room for manipulation of logbooks. That alone will handle many of the problems CSA 2010 was designed to address.

Ron Konezny, president of PeopleNet, is also concerned about the difficult management burden CSA 2010 could place on unprepared fleets, even though the company definitely supports the new safety rating procedures. “With CSA 2010, FMCSA has had a very good outreach program,” he says, “but there are still a lot of changes fleets will have to deal with all at once. Besides CSA 2010 and the new EOBR regulation, the Dept. of Transportation (DOT) already has access to GPS data during safety audits, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is still reviewing the hours of service limits.

“There really is a virtual mandate for electronic logs today when you connect all of the dots,” Konezny notes. “Ten years ago, I'd be calling on a fleet and people would ask me if we could remove the electronic log function from our EOBR. Now, nobody wants to implement an EOBR unless it can handle electronic logging, whether they plan to deploy [that function] right away or not.”

Most of PeopleNet's customers are private fleets and most of them are already using electronic logs, Konezny says. He sees that as a big advantage when it comes to hours-of-service compliance now or under CSA 2010, primarily because electronic logs virtually eliminate the possibility of logbook inaccuracies or manipulation.

“When CSA 2010 takes effect, there will be a very dramatic reduction in potential hours-of-service-related penalties if you use electronic logs,” he says.

TIME TO VOLUNTEER?

Many fleets, both private and for-hire, have decided it is time to move to EOBRs now rather than risk being forced into it as a “remedial penalty” under FMCSR 395.16 or by finding that CSA 2010 compliance is just too tough to manage without a little help from today's onboard technologies. Of course, there is also the possibility that the new EOBR mandate will be expanded to include many more fleets, such as hazardous materials haulers or bus fleets.

FMCSA made that option clear when it published the revised regulation on April 5. “The Agency will explore the safety benefits of a broader EOBR mandate in a new rulemaking proceeding that will begin in the near future,” it noted.

There are compliance carrots as well as sticks in the case of the new EOBR regulation, however. For one thing, the final rule provides incentives for motor carriers to voluntarily use EOBRs, including elimination of the requirement to retain and maintain supporting documents related to driving time, since this information will be accessible from the EOBR.

Fleets using currently compliant EOBRs or so-called AOBRDs (various automatic on-board recording devices that came before today's EOBRs) are also not being forced to update their systems; that is, unless they are required to because of failure to maintain and preserve records of duty status, falsification of records, or one of the other 24 separate violations that will now trigger a remedial directive if violated at a threshold rate of 10% or greater.

“Onboard HOS recording devices meeting FMCSA's current requirements and voluntarily installed in CMVs [commercial motor vehicles] manufactured before the implementation date of a final rule will be permitted for use for the remainder of the service life of those CMVs,” noted FMCSA in its comments on the new rule. “It is not the Agency's intention to make AOBRDs obsolete or to require compliant motor carriers to replace their current systems of maintaining RODS [records of duty status].” On the other hand, fleets deciding to voluntarily switch to EOBRs after the compliance date must use a device that meets the new requirements.

BEYOND COMPLIANCE

While the regulatory compliance case for moving to EOBRs has never been stronger, it's the long list of ancillary benefits related to productivity, efficiency, cost reduction and customer service that has propelled many fleets to move to EOBRs in the absence of mandates.

“The new rule has certainly made the case for EOBRs more compelling, but there are also compelling business reasons to implement EOBRs regardless of regulations,” says Gerry Kirouac, training manager at Cadec Global. “The payback on EOBRs is usually quick. Fleets see gains in productivity and customer service, reduced paperwork, idle reduction and safety. EOBRs actually improve driver performance almost without doing anything else,” he adds. “Because drivers know they are being watched, they start paying more attention to their driving behaviors.”

“A number of fleets feel like electronic logs are virtually mandated now, so they have just stepped up and said ‘we might as well do it,’” observes Jeff Davis, vp-safety and human resources for Jet Express. “That said, many fleets today are reporting increased productivity and good driver acceptance levels.”

Most of Xata's customers are already using electronic logs, notes Tom Cuthbertson, director of industry solutions for the company, because of what they can deliver to the bottom line. “The conversation has become more intense about electronic logs in recent times,” he says, “but electronic logs can be really beneficial to a business. The case has just been made even more compelling by the regulation. With all the new pressures [of CSA 2010] and the opportunity for a wider EOBR mandate, it makes sense for fleets to step back and look to see how EOBRs might impact their businesses in a positive way.”

Surviving a DOT audit with electronic logs

Tom Schmidt had little trouble sleeping the night of Feb. 17, 2009. That was the night that Schmidt, vp of Iowa-based GSTC Inc., learned his fleet had been randomly selected for a DOT safety audit. “We had been doing the right things right, including switching to electronic driver logs, so I felt ready,” Schmidt says, noting that his company had not been audited since 1988.

GSTC is a dry van operation mainly serving the East Coast with 135 trucks, some 800,000 sq. ft. of warehouse space and all company drivers. According to Schmidt, they began testing electronic logs in November 2008 with a couple of drivers who volunteered to give them a try. “Although we'd been a PeopleNet customer since 1995, I was the biggest obstacle when it came to going with electronic logging,” he says. “I was afraid we'd lose drivers.”

Instead, just the opposite happened. The drivers liked the logs and GSTC began requiring them for all new drivers and then for anyone involved in an accident. “Then we had volunteers every week,” Schmidt says. “Today, 100% of the company's drivers use electronic logs, and they wouldn't dream of going back to paper logbooks.”

So when the four auditors arrived and asked for the past two year's worth of driver records, Schmidt says he pulled up the PeopleNet online system, hooked up a projector, and displayed all the driver records on the wall.

Schmidt says the auditors were impressed with the technology in use at a company the size of GSTC and with the openness and transparency it added to the audit process. “It was a pleasant experience,” he notes. “Our electronic logs made it easier.”

After five-and-one-half days, DOT found no critical or acute problems, Schmidt says, and he was happy to address the few minor issues that the audit turned up. “I learned from them,” he says. “The auditors helped us to make our operation better. I might have looked at the audit experience differently if we had not been prepared, but the e-logs are there and they are accurate and I can deal with that. You just can't defend a falsified paper log.

“If an electronic log shows that a driver was over the 11-hour limit by 45 seconds, that's okay. Even if they are a few minutes past the limit, it is a non-compliance issue, not a log falsification issue and that is a very different matter,” he adds. “The electronic logs just eliminate many possible violations. Besides that, they help us control costs, and now they are integrated with our TMW system, which also helps us to improve our efficiency.

“Before the audit, I'd been making a lot of presentations about the value of EOBRs and electronic logs,” Schmidt says. “It was a good feeling to know that I had also been practicing what I was preaching.”

EOBRs: More than compliance

While publication of the final EOBR rule has strengthened the case for electronic logs, some fleets have long been focusing on the benefits electronic onboard recorders and related technologies can bring to their operations. For them, regulatory compliance is just one more benefit in a long list. Among the more common advantages:

  • Cut fuel costs through idling reduction, managing vehicle speed and improving driving performance.

  • Reduce maintenance costs with better, real-time diagnostic data.

  • Improve resource utilization.

  • Eliminate most DOT log errors/violations.

  • Identify driver performance problems early.

  • Identify your best drivers for rewards/recognition.

  • Develop performance standards and manage to those standards.

  • Improve safety rating.

  • Meet customer requirements/improve customer service.

  • Document detention in order to charge shippers.

  • Gather predictive information, such as failure or wear rates, to help improve equipment spec'ing and purchasing decisions.

  • Document performance and reduce risks.

  • Identify regular trips that “push the limit” or do not make the best use of available hours.

Advice from a plaintiff's attorney…

The Reeves Law Group, a California firm that focuses exclusively on representing personal injury victims, including victims of accidents involving trucks, makes yet another regulation-based case for electronic logs, but from a different perspective: the plaintiff's. It is a useful viewpoint for any fleet still not warming to the idea of electronic logs as a good investment — even for those who strongly disagree with Reeves' assessment of trucking.

“Accidents caused by driver fatigue are a major contributing factor in the 5,000 deaths every year …” the firm notes on its website (www.robertreeveslaw.com).

“In the absence of such recorders, there is little oversight of whether truckers are complying with the hours-of-service rules,” Reeves continues. “Currently, hours-of-service compliance tends to be self-regulatory, with drivers filling up law [sic] books. However, these logbooks can very often be manipulated, and that beats the purpose of restricting drivers' work-hours in the first place. The practice of manipulating logbooks is widespread in the trucking industry, and it has been a source of great concern to injury lawyers in California. Having electronic recorders on commercial trucks…makes it far more difficult for a driver to game the system.”

Other options

For carriers not planning to deploy EOBRs at this point, there are still options to help minimize compliance problems and provide visibility into the operations of the business. Fleets can check all their driver logs against GPS data to help avert unsatisfactory safety ratings, for instance, while saving fleets the upfront cost of implementing EOBRs.

Rair, a provider of compliance and safety services for the trucking industry, scans paper logs and automatically compares them to the GPS data to verify accuracy. “Eventually, [the industry] will all go to EOBRs,” says J.J. Singh, Rair president & CEO, “but there is still the problem of the up-front cost of EOBRs. With our automated process, we can alert you within 48 hours if you have a problem with falsified logs.”

According to Singh, the company presently audits the paper logs of almost 200,000 truck operators working for hundreds of fleets, including almost 50% of the top truckload carriers. “You don't necessarily have to go to EOBRs to get 99% accuracy of your driver log data,” he says. “We have dramatically reduced logbook falsifications for many of our customers.”

Rair also announced in April that it will provide carriers with free monthly CSA 2010 scorecards, which include percentile rankings against their peers. This announcement was made in response to FMCSA's change in the timeline for implementing CSA 2010.

“We believe we have a unique solution for helping fleets with CSA 2010,” Singh notes. “We can provide a scorecard like some other companies do, but we can also check the data for errors, for mistakes in violations and inspections — and they do happen. If inspection data is wrong, it can give carriers a means to challenge a violation.”

Singh considers CSA 2010 to be “a real game-changer” for fleets. “It has raised a lot of questions about what things have to be done very, very well,” he says.

An abbreviated list of regulatory abbreviations

If you need to read the new EOBR regulation (and you really do), then the next best thing to a decoder ring is the list of 80-plus abbreviations that FMCSA provided with the publication of the newly amended EOBR regulation on page 17208 of the April 5, 2010, Federal Register.

Here are some of the most important and frequently used abbreviations in the list:

  • AOBRDs: Automatic On-Board Recording Devices (an earlier version of EOBRs)
  • CR: Compliance Review
  • CSA 2010: Comprehensive Safety Analysis 2010 (effective this November)
  • ECM: Electronic Control Module
  • EOBR: Electronic On-Board Recorder
  • HOS: Hours of Service
  • ICR: Information Collection Request
  • OBD: On-Board Diagnostic
  • ODND: On Duty Not Driving
  • PII: Personally Identifiable Information
  • PIA: Privacy Impact Assessment
  • RODS: Records of Duty Status