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Everyone has an opinion about electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs). As I see it, the device is a two-edged sword, which can be useful or dangerous depending on how it’s handled.
The Commercial Driver Compliance Improvement Act mandates that the U.S. DOT issue regulations that commercial motor vehicles used in interstate commerce be equipped with EOBRs for purposes of improving compliance with Hours-of-Service regulations. So these devices are going to be a fact of life for drivers.
Setting the terms
Legislation defines an EOBR as an electronic device that is capable of recording a driver’s duty status accurately and automatically; meets additional requirements for identifying drivers and vehicles; and is capable of monitoring the location and movement of the vehicle.
The EOBRs must have the ability to be integrally linked or communicate with the engine’s control module; identify the individual operating the vehicle; accurately record driving time; provide real-time tracking of a vehicle’s location; enable law enforcement personnel to access the information contained in the device during roadside inspections; and for the device to be tamper resistant.
So, are EOBRs a good thing? Yes, if you believe they will fulfill their objective of improving highway safety.
One school of thought is that the devices will make truck drivers more aware and concerned about safety. For instance, drivers will be apt to be more accurate with their logs when an EOBR is installed, and less likely to make “innocent” errors.
Another is that fleets can use the data collected by EOBRs to help them improve their Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) scores and avoid fines. An initiative of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), CSA’s objective is to identify high-risk carriers and drivers, with an ultimate goal of improving large truck and bus safety and reducing crashes, injuries and fatalities.
Some fleets say EOBRs would be a good tool to help them reduce their risk of non-compliance with Hours-of-Service regulations, save drivers the chore of filling out logbooks, reduce the administrative paperwork related to logbooks and give dispatchers a more accurate way to gauge a driver’s availability.
Other fleets are concerned about the cost of installing EOBRs and training office staff, operations personnel and drivers to use them.
On the other hand, if “Big Brother” constantly watches drivers, owner-operators and motor carriers, will the EOBR data be used properly?
Provisions in the EOBR regulations explicitly provide protections for use of information beyond enforcement and compliance monitoring. Ownership of data is protected for the owner of the vehicle or the person entitled to possession of the vehicle as lessee.
The regulations also establish a secure process for standardized and unique vehicle operator identification, data access, data transfer for vehicle operators between motor vehicles, data storage for motor carriers and data transfer and transportability for law enforcement.
Going to court
Plaintiff attorneys are already using EOBR data, when it is available, as objective evidence for such things as vehicle speed, driving time and hard-braking events.
One of the variables in court cases is that everyone judges time, speed and distance differently. That’s because we all see things differently.
EOBRs do away with people’s guesstimates of such things. Say a four-wheeler is moving at a higher speed than a truck, and when changing lanes, turns into a rig. Even if there is no specific evidence of wrongdoing by the driver or fleet, a plaintiff’s attorney could try to use EOBR data to suggest otherwise. The car driver has no EOBR record of its speed. The truck does.
The good news is: an EOBR can tell exactly how fast a truck was traveling at a certain time. The bad news is: an EOBR can tell exactly how fast a truck was traveling at a certain time.