By on August 8, 2014

By Louisa Ortiz (Junior, Ketchikan Alaska) and Mike Smitka (the Prof, Detroit Michigan and Lexington Virginia) edited from her post of May 11th, 2014 in Economics 244 (link here). This is the latest in a series of (edited) posts by my students, many of whom got into blogging and all of whom performed well in a class that while on the road or with a visiting speaker could begin with an 8 am departure and not end until a 10 pm return. Kudos to them!

Disclaimer: we have no particular knowledge of these EOBR services; they were chosen for their decorative value.

Truck accidents can be horrific, and Washington and Lee is just off I-81, which has some of the highest density truck traffic in the country. My son was forced off the road while commuting to school – with a police car there to witness it. A Japanese tourist passing through the county was less lucky, rear-ended by a truck as he tried to merge. His wife in the rear seat didn’t have her seat belt on (typical in Japan), and was thrown from the vehicle, dying later that evening. (I was called in as an interpreter, small town networks being what they are.)

 

In many ways it was the quintessential accident, a chain of chance events. The truck driver was under lots of pressure. Driving big trucks was the only profession he’d ever had. He’d never had an accident, indeed he’d never had a ticket, but the Canadian company that employed him was in bankruptcy. He’d driven more than the legal number of hours; likely he’d dozed off. The driver of the car was lost, and it was getting dark. Again, there happened to be a policeman there who saw the accident; he claimed the car was traveling at a normal speed, but I got to know the driver and suspect he was likely going closer to 35 mph, not 55+ mph. Oh, and before I forget, the driver and the daughter who was traveling with them both had their seatbelts on and were uninjured: buckle up!

Now drivers aren’t supposed to be behind the wheel until they can’t keep their eyes open. Unfortunately the relevant regulatory authorities have faced budget cuts, not increases, even as the combination of deregulation and the container revolution and sheer economic growth touched off a veritable explosion of trucking. It’s easy to set up shell companies, lease trucks and hire “self employed” drivers on contract, and then stop carrying insurance while pressuring drivers to bend every rule in the book. With our Great Recession lingering, the marginal driver operates in fear of his job – most involved in this are (by hearsay) eastern Europeans, some surely illegals – and so abuses are rife, and inspections of vehicles and driver logs are few and far between. When one does occur, or there’s an accident, the owners of the company can’t be tracked down, with leased trucks they can just disappear, and the drivers are independent contractors, so they’re individually liable.

Policy may be hamstrung by politics, but our bureaucrats are generally public servants, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration does what they can. Our knowledge benefited from a conversation with Ms. Kaitlin Brown, a lawyer who specializes in trucking accidents, during a W&L alumni event in Detroit. [Washington and Lee has a law school alongside its undergrad liberal arts component. Tapping our alumni network is useful!] In particular, the federal government plans to mandate electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) for interstate commercial motor vehicles to monitor hours-of-service compliance, beginning in 2016.

The EOBRs, already used by multiple trucking firms, have many uses. One focus is tracking a trucker’s hours, thus push drivers to take mandatory (and sensible) breaks. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration hopes this leads to less accidents. EOBRs also keep in memory the ninety seconds before and after a hard breaking incident. Trucking agencies currently use this to provide insight to what actually happened in a crash (and to use this information in court). More generally, EOBRs allow a trucking agency to track all of their vehicle and monitor their movement across the country. They can look at an individual truck’s speed history, fuel efficiency performance, cruise control usage, as well as a list of all hard breaking incidences. This will allow the companies’ safety managers to better monitor drivers’ habits and hopefully lead to safer behaviors. [The US is not in the vanguard; police check truckers in Canada for speeding by downloading their in-vehicle recorders, so quite sensibly trucks there install governors to keep them below 104 kph = 65 mph.]

Although there are many benefits to EOBRs, some issues that need to be worked out. Their use seems to benefit most of the larger trucking companies, because at $1500 to $2000 a vehicle; independent drivers and smaller companies say that EOBRs are just too expensive. They would prefer to continue doing their logs by hand. On a different note, some individual drivers are speaking up, saying that the oversight by the trucking companies takes away the driver’s sense of independence and some of the pleasure of their job. Drivers are also saying that instead of EOBRs being used to limit the number of hours spent driving, companies might use them to penalize those who drive less than the maximum number of hours.

As federal regulation goes, the implementation of EOBRs in all tucks might allow law enforcement to check for speeding by requesting to see the log [Cf. the Prof’s discussion of truckers in Canada.] This would likely decrease speeding, but would it be excessive government intervention? Why at trucks? Eventually, following this same path, all passenger vehicles might be required to have the same technology installed and all vehicles would be subject to having their logs checked.

As Ms. Brown discussed, EOBR’s have the potential to create safer highways by limiting the number of tired, overworked truck drivers, but there are still many issues that need to be worked out. Will the companies or individuals be required to bear the cost? How will this affect the individual drivers versus the companies that they work for – will drivers be made the “fall guys” for companyies trying to eke out the last penny of profit?

Finally, this is just one example of where the trucking industry is likely setting precedents for passenger cars, which also have recorders that can provide vehicle status at the time of an accident. Trucking also leads in the commercialization of some of the features of autonomous vehicles, with adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection and sway mitigation and (in the EU) truck “trains”. To know where cars are going, watch trucks!

    For more see EOBRs see:

  • Overdrive, 10 Problems with EOBRs. Overdrive advertises itself as “the Premier Resource for Online Trucking News”
  • Brown, Kaitlin, Timothy Groustra and Jim Rodi. “The EOBR Mandate and its Potential Impact on Safety, Claims Handling and Underwriting.” The Transportation Lawyer. 15:1 (2013), 47-49.
  • Omnitracs, a fleet management solutions company at EOBR 101
  • Pedigree Technology’s ELog
  • EOBR.com
  • XRSCorp on Automatic On-Board Recording Devices, which notes that there is in the narrow regulatory sense no such thing as an “EOBR”.

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16 Comments on “EOBR Mandate: Benefits and Problems...”


  • avatar

    If there is any industry that needs autonomous driving technology, it’s the trucking industry. If someone developed a system that could automatically “drive” the truck, start/stop with traffic, it would make trucking so much better and safer.

    There is always a “threshold” of human/ child/ pregnant woman/ etc deaths that has to be crossed before this reactionary society will do anything about a situation.

    How many people have to be killed by sleepy truck drivers before congress passes mandates – which will inevitably hurt trucking companies bottom lines – even if they make the roads safer?

    • 0 avatar
      Sky_Render

      Or, you know, we could just build more rail routes, since they reduce highway congestion, decrease transit times, and reduce fuel consumption.

      • 0 avatar
        Onus

        Rail is good. But, we have to remember North America already pushes an insane amount of freight via rail. We have 2nd highest ton km rate in the world and the highest amount of freight moved via rail.

        Then again that doesn’t stop issues. Rails can be maintained just as badly. I.E. the Quebec train explosion and some other ones. That specific one was caused by bad rail maintenance.

        The problem is rail is slower and trucks are usually needed for the last mile anyway.

        • 0 avatar
          wmba

          ” Rails can be maintained just as badly. I.E. the Quebec train explosion and some other ones. That specific one was caused by bad rail maintenance.”

          COMPLETELY INCORRECT.

          The final report on the Magog Quebe train explosion from Transportation Safety Board of Canada has not been released. However, only 7 railcar handbrakes were set instead of 25when the train was parked at the top of a grade overnight.

          Thr bad rail maintenance is a complete side issue: where you came up with this idea is known only to you.

  • avatar
    Sky_Render

    I-81 is a bloody awful highway. The Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) conducted a study of the ~15 miles of I-81 that travel through the state. I was sent a copy of it, since I live less than 5 miles from I-81.

    SHA found that 1) the average percentage of semi trucks on I-81 was something like 2-3 times higher than on any other Maryland highway, 2) the road must needs to be widened from 2 to 3 lanes to increase safety of people (and semi trucks) passing extremely slow-moving semi trucks, and 3) that the safety of merging on the Interstate would best be remedied by using frontage roads.

    The study then concluded that there were no plans to do any of this, due to lack of funding. WTF?!

    • 0 avatar
      sproc

      Agree, and I believe all those same recommendations would apply to the Virginia section of I-81 as well. The rolling hills and constant grade changes create massive speed differentials for truck traffic even in the best of conditions. For the most part, crossing the Rockies is nowhere as nerve-wracking.

  • avatar
    bunkie

    Two things:

    I was once driving at night in heavy rain on the stretch of I-81 through Maryland into Pennsylvania coming home from vacation in Virginia. It was one of the most white-knuckle rides I’ve ever had. The trucks were nose-to-tail, there was construction everywhere with narrow lanes and many lane shifts, and the spray was so thick that visibility was, essentially, a few feet.

    The second thing:

    Corporations in various fields have been shedding employees, turning them into “independent contractors”. They do it to skirt labor laws of various kinds. In my field, IT, it’s incredibly common. You should see some of the games the contract agencies play with the people they place in positions.

  • avatar
    bertolini

    Great essay, lots of good stuff here…where to begin. FWIW I live in the New River Valley of VA off I-81 and commute regularly to Roanoke VA and points north as well as I have family that lives on the PA/NY line just off I-81. I also carry a VA CDL and have driven OTR on I-81 on a consistent basis. I spend way to much time on this highway… I am a huge advocate for the proposed construction of a new rail yard in my county that (granted this was in the proposal taken at face value) is designed to reduce truck traffic on the SWVA I-81 corridor through the northern regions. Truck traffic on I-81 in VA/MD/southern PA is well beyond the design limitations of the highway. There are issues daily from overcrowding to traffic snarling and often times lethal accidents. Here and there VA has tried to upgrade the highway with truck climbing lanes, wider and more level curves and adjustments in the maximum allowable speed, but the results have led to little improvement.

    I also have experienced some of what the author mentions in relation to the “shell companies” of the OTR industry. Truth be told I looked in to creating my own company during a time of hardship in my life and thankfully I decided against what would have been a fly-by-night trucking company that consisted of wheel holders with questionable records, not actual rule abiding drivers (some may say there is no such thing but trust me there are good drivers). I have often heard the phrase “a**es in the seats, hands on the wheel”, referring to what some companies feel is all that is necessary to operate an OTR company and reel in the profits.

    As far as EOBRs are concerned, I have dealt with an early version that I liked even though I kept a legit logbook along side it just in case. I also experimented with a few computer and app based programs but all of them required human input which means any driver can lie. I also can see how some in the industry think the EOBRs can be used against them. It is all in picking up loads and making money from drivers/dispatchers to CEOs. I still flirt with OTR trucking but I am glad to have a more local home every night transportation job as I get older.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Having driven on I-81 thru the Shennandoah Valley of Virginia, I second the observation of very high truck traffic, and yes, there certainly needs to be a third, cars-only lane.

    At the risk of sounding “get of my lawn!” there’s far too much talk of “fairness” these days. It’s a sort of conversation-stopper: “Oh, that’s so unfair!” Given that tractor-trailer combinations can weigh more than ten times the weight of a car, or even an SUV, they are capable of creating far more mayhem than a nut in a car. Just watch one of them try and make a panic stop from 65 miles an hour, but don’t be too close. While cars have had ABS for years, trucking companies have successfully lobbied against mandatory ABS, even though a semi’s ability to stop quickly without getting sideways depends very much on the skill of both the driver and the person who set up the brakes on the trailer.

    So, I would completely support data monitoring of trucks for speed, hours of operation and so on. Big lines already do this in the interest of achieving best fuel economy and, if I’m not mistaken, urge the use of cruise control (and, while we’re at it, why not “adaptive cruise control” on trucks?). Yes, enforcing hour limits and requiring high-dollar mandatory liability will add to costs . . . but truck accidents caused by tired drivers and/or poorly maintained trucks have costs, too.

    One of the big standing jokes about speed limits is the fact that many states have lower speed limits for trucks than for cars . . . but you never, ever see that enforced.

    • 0 avatar
      Toad

      DCB., two points:

      All commercial trucks and trailers built since 1997 have had mandatory ABS systems. If the ABS dash light is on in a truck the truck will not pass a DOT, roadside, or weigh station inspection. Those requirements have been in place for a long time and nobody is fighting to turn the clock back.

      Regarding lower speed limits for trucks, speed differentials between vehicles are MORE dangerous than all vehicles traveling at the same speed. Requiring trucks to go slower than cars creates more accidents as cars try to pass the slower trucks.

      Most trucks today are governed to 65 mph or so by their owners for safety and fuel economy reasons.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        I don’t really buy the argument about speed differentials. In Europe, trucks are limited universally to 80-100km/hr depending on how they are equipped and what they are carrying – their individual limit is posted right on the back of the truck. In my last 3-week trip I did not see a SINGLE truck speeding. Car limits are anywhere from 120km/hr to infinity on the highway. So a major speed differential pretty much everywhere. Doesn’t seem to cause a problem, because traffic rules are actually enforced and obeyed.

  • avatar
    carlisimo

    “…but I got to know the driver and suspect he was likely going closer to 35 mph, not 55+ mph.”

    One of the scariest close calls I’ve had on the road was the result of someone merging onto a 65 mph freeway at 40 mph. Everyone else was panic braking, moving into the next lane over, staying out of the way of the big rig that the slow driver had merged right in front of… it was a mess. It wasn’t rush hour so we all had room to prevent any collisions. Of course, if it had been rush hour it probably wouldn’t have happened at all; commuters drive so much more predictably than off-hours drivers.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Yeah..commuters in my area merge into 70+ at ** 50mph! **

      • 0 avatar
        JimC2

        “Yeah..commuters in my area merge into 70+ at ** 50mph! **”

        We must live in the same area. Another common move, on freeway onramps/acceleration lanes, is when the idiot inexplicably taps their brakes- this when the lane is perfectly straight. But our traffic cops would rather just look at a number on a radar gun and use it to collect taxes instead of doing real work.

  • avatar
    wmba

    The article mentions regulations in Canada twice. Yet no mention is included in the references, no doubt because the assertions are incorrect.

    Canada is composed of 10 provinces and is not some amorphous blob. Each province has their own motor carrier regulations which are by no means uniform between jurisdictions.

    The federal government regulates interprovincial trade, and in consultation with the provinces, who perform all inspections, tries to regulate the motor carrier trade when it crosses provincial or US borders.

    There is no uniform set of rules across our country. A brief Google search also shows that EOBRs are not yet implemented, nor is there a uniform speed limiter program. Individual provinces may have them, but that is up to them.

    The Feds try to harmonize regulations, but nothing much has happened due to each province having its own ideas. You can read about the “research” papers presented here and their accompanying links:

    https://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/motorvehiclesafety/roadsafety-motor-carriers-commercial-vehicles-drivers-1312.htm

    It’s simplistic to base arguments for change in your country by pretending that another country has certain rules, without even understanding how regulations in that country are, in fact, applied – and who is responsible.

    The article also is poorly edited: “hard breaking”, “companyies”. Really about high school level, frankly, judging from the overall effort as referenced above in assuming Canada has a monolithic set of regulations.

    You see, I know two motor carrier inspectors here in my province, and what is described in the article is just not happening. I wish it were.

  • avatar
    Mike Smitka

    Thanks, I’ll double-check on the Canada story, my friend drives into Ontario, possibly Quebec but probably not other provinces. I push the boundaries of my knowledge in posts, hoping to learn from the comments – as I did here. So to reiterate, thanks to wmba and the others, including more details on I-81.

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