First a bit of background:
Electric on Board Recorders (EOBR’s) will soon be universally required in the trucking industry. This is a good thing as I have blogged about before here. Rules just passed by the FMCSA in April (See here) currently require only the bottom 10% of all trucking companies to use them. EOBR’s keep track of a drivers hours so that commercial truck drivers drive within the limits allowed by law, decreasing the number of accidents caused by fatigue. Access to a driver’s logs, whether paper or electronic, help prove whether the driver was fatigued and whether the trucking company allowed (or required) the driver to drive in a fatigued state contributing to a wreck. Currently up to 30% of accidents involving tractor trailers involve fatigue and it is a top ten cause of wrecks involving trucks.
EOBR’s are a bit harder to fake than paper logs (See here for June 2010 statistics on log book violations) and thus make it more likely that fatigued drivers will stay off the road, reducing the number of wrecks. Given this what is wrong with a Bill requiring EOBR’s to be used throughout the trucking industry? As always, the devil is in the details.
The "Hide the Evidence of Fatigue Rather Than Address the Problem of Tired Truckers" bill introduced by Senator Mark Pryor (D-Ar) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tn) (also known as The Commercial Driver Compliance Improvement Act (S. 3884)) was filed late last month. The bill is an attempt by the trucking industry to hide evidence of fatigue in any truck driver involved in a wreck. Specifically the bill only allows the information contained in Electric On Board Recorders (EOBRS) to be used by the owner. In other words if the information helps the trucking company in a case they can use it. If it shows that their driver was fatigued they can refuse to even reveal its existence. This means the very folks that were injured due to the trucking companies practice of allowing fatigued drivers on the road are hurt again when they can’t get the evidence they need to prove it in court.
Five of the largest transportation companies in the industry, JB Hunt Transportation, Knight Transportation, Maverick Transportation, US Express, and Schneider National have formed a coalition they’re calling “The Alliance for Driver Safety & Security” to back the bill. Of these companies it is worth noting that most are already using EOBR’s (since they reduce wrecks and make companies more efficient to boot) and will benefit financially by having this evidence hidden from the innocent victim’s of their fatigued drivers.
The bill is in stark contrast to NTSB’s call for greater information needed about fatigue in the trucking industry. The call by the NTSB last month for universal EOBR’s, and a greater focus on fatigue, came late last month after an investigation of a multiple fatality case in Oklahoma where the fatigued driver never even applied his brakes. (See here for the NTSB press release, the full NTSB report is not currently available but should be in a few weeks). The NTSB stated that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s fatigue educational materials, based on the North American Fatigue Management Program, need to be improved and regularly updated. EOBR’s are, and have been, on the NTSB’s 2010 most wanted list.
I am in full agreement that EOBR”s should be universal in the trucking industry, but by preventing the discovery and use of this evidence by victims of fatigued drivers Senators Pryor and Alexander (who listed as supporters of this bill large trucking companies in their home states) don’t help the problem, they hide it from view. This is a bad bill and the Senators should be ashamed that they introduced it in the current form.
"For the past 30 years, the NTSB has advocated the use of onboard data recorders to increase Hours of Service compliance…the NTSB recommended that they be required on all commercial vehicles,” Deborah Hersman, Chairman of the (NTSB).