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The Mandate for Electronic On-board Recorders

On September 29, 2010, Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced legislation, Senate Bill S.3884, that would require the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to issue a mandate for motor carriers to use electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) to log truck driver hours electronically. This bill is being advocated by a coalition of motor carriers and others that believe transportation logistics will result in improved safety performance through fewer driver fatigue-related accidents. The mandate will ensure all motor carriers and drivers follow the same rules.

On February 1, 2011, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) of U.S. DOT issued its own proposed version of an EOBR mandate, and with a different approach than what is in the Senate bill.

Then on March 31, 2011, the Pryor-Alexander bill was re-introduced as S.695 was re-introduced to 112th Congress with minor revisions from the earlier bill.

There are significant differences in how information integrity is assured and how EOBRs are certified in the two proposals.

The FMCSA approach for future, mandated EOBRs is to use what it has already defined as technical requirements in its 395.16 rulemaking issued last year and effective in 2012. It would add to that, though, expanded requirements to use business documents to verify driver hours logs. Through more intensive auditing, the FMCSA believes that exceptions and non-compliant behaviors will be identified and corrected.

The Senate bill, however, would have FMCSA significantly expand EOBR performance requirements, adding or strengthening requirements relating to:

• EOBR connection with the vehicle and its electronic control modules
• driver identity controls
• accuracy in recording driving time
vehicle location tracking and recording
• law enforcement access to EOBR data
• tamper resistance and device security
• standardized user interfaces
• information security in data transfers

While some of the leading EOBR products currently on the market are effective in assuring information integrity, there is concern that the FMCSA version of the mandate will attract some new products that may be “compliant” but not really effective due to weaker performance requirements in its proposed rulemaking.

The second big difference between the FMCSA and Congressional approaches for an EOBR mandate is the certification requirements. FMCSA’s current approach is that EOBR manufacturers would self-certify their product in meeting the requirements of the regulation. For motor carriers, it would essentially be “buyer beware.” Carriers are responsible for using compliant systems. The Senate bill would have FMCSA define certification criteria for all performance requirements for EOBRs, and establish a process for verifiable EOBR certifications. It would also require carriers to use EOBRs that have been certified through the prescribed process.

So what is the future of EOBRs? For now, we will have to watch what develops. The FMCSA proposed mandate rulemaking is open to public commentary until May 23, 2011. Congress is expected to act on S.695 this year, but there are not assurances.

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