The Good, the Bad and The Ugly of EOBRs

truck at weigh stationA professional trucker for 30 years, Dick Pingel usually hauls sausage and cheese out of his home state of Wisconsin. He’s covered three and a half million miles in his career and never had a chargeable accident – and he’s pretty unhappy about the EOBR mandate.

Quoted in The Atlantic magazine’s article, Haulin’ Data: How Trucking Became the Frontier of Work Surveillance, he says, “They’re forcing me to put something in that’s not gonna help me any. And they keep saying, ‘Well, it saves you time…’ You know, I can do a lot. I can write up a log book in the same amount of time that it takes me to program what I’m doing into the EOBR.”

Pingel’s not alone. The move toward mandating EOBRs (a.k.a. electronic logging devices or ELDs) ranks high in the top five problems of both owner/operators and fleet-owners, according to polls by Overdrive Magazine and the American Transportation Research Institute.

The problems revolve mostly around their use being required by law and less around the devices themselves, which record driving time, manage HOS log data, and support driver log inspections.

The Bright Side of EOBRs

But unhitch the devices from the aggravation around the mandate, and it’s possible they could be a force for good, improving fuel efficiency, productivity and making logging a little easier. In the same Atlantic article, another thirty-year veteran of trucking makes the case for EOBRs. Cliff Downing claims that the device has benefitted him financially.

“My gross revenues have been up year over year, each year since using electronic logs,” he says. “Now is it due to electronic logs? Not the machine itself, it’s the efficiency that’s been forced onto us by the machine.”

Detention Time Leverage for Drivers?

Acknowledging his own resistance to the EOBR mandate lemons, owner-operator Henry Albert thinks drivers could make lemonade from the rule.

He believes that the FMCSA envisioned the fourteen-hour rule as a way to combat the detention issues that drivers face at the dock. The agency has no authority over shippers and realizes that detention time is a major fatigue issue. Albert guesses that FMCSA’s thinking is that if drivers had more limited ability to make up for delays caused by shippers and consignees, the practice of detaining drivers would be eliminated.

So far that hasn’t panned out, but Albert thinks EOBRs will further force drivers to watch their time – under penalty of law – which may finally force shippers and dispatchers to better respect drivers’ time.

Imagining a world where EOBRs are in virtually every truck, he says, “shippers would be calling dispatch wondering where their shipments are. Dispatchers would be calling drivers and asking, ‘Why didn’t you make it to your destination?’ Here’s the beauty…the driver would simply respond to dispatch saying ‘I was out of hours.’”

Who Does the EOBR Mandate Affect?

Drivers who must file a record of duty status (RODS) are subject to the rule as it currently stands. That totals  3.4-million drivers, including 1.7-million owner-operators according to this article on FleetOwner.com.

Where the Legislation Stands

There’s been no mandate finalized, but the FMCSA is expected to re-publish the rule in early 2014, after taking input on how to protect drivers from pressure to work in violation of safety regulations. Industry insiders anticipate a one- or two-year grace period before enforcement begins.

EOBR Options for Drivers and Fleets that Want to Get Ahead of the Mandate

By combining wireless technology and cloud computing software (software that’s accessed via the Internet instead of being installed on your computer), companies are now able to develop products that are much less expensive. On-board computers are no longer necessary, and special hardware can be replaced by a driver’s smartphone or tablet.

Versus the two to three hours installation used to take, it’s now done in five minutes. Christian Schenk, VP of market development and product marketing for XRS Corp predicts that when the new rule hits, there won’t be enough qualified techs to install the number of traditional onboard computers needed to handle all the demand. A brief install will be a nice advantage.

After the initial software purchase (which for example is $600 for the Turnpike product from Xata), monthly fees can be as low as $30. Qualcomm and XRS Corp also offer logs that can be used on smart phones and tablets.

Pitfalls to Look Out For

Certification – With the law mandating a device for such a large industry, the number of companies competing for the business will likely skyrocket – and a few years is a short time to have EOBR solutions ready to supply that will be truly compliant and meet massive demand.

How many of those companies will be able to manufacture a device that actually serves drivers and fleet owners in following the law remains to be seen. Whether or not the government gets into the business of certifying these devices, companies will need to do their homework on a vendor. “The key component is the company behind the device. The software is the easy part; the hard part is staying up on the regulations and changing rules.”

Data Transfer – How will electronically-logged data be transferred to law enforcement during an inspection? Transferring via a wireless connection is one option, or handing the device to the officer and letting him read it off the screen. Some suppliers are considering a USB stick, or sending info via the telematics provider, where the data would be transmitted to the provider’s server and then transferred to the enforcement agency’s system and then back down to the patrol car.   But all this is dependent on what’s compatible with law enforcement systems.

Steve Keppler, executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance: “Agencies don’t have a lot of money around to buy the newest technologies…The rule needs to be able to account for the differing levels of technology in the field.”