EOBRs: A Curse or a Benefit?

Technology can be used either way

By Timothy D. Brady

EOBR technology is awesome, as a potential tool. But like any tool, it’s how it benefits everyone who uses it. But I have the same apprehension and fear as when I tested the QUALCOMM system back in its beginnings in the early ’90s. If it’s used by carriers and the government to micromanage truckers, it diminishes the value of each trucker. When you remove responsibility and treat individuals (truckers) as if they don’t have the intellect to make safe and responsible decisions, you end up with a lower quality individual desiring to enter the truck driving profession.

I hope you heard about the recent judicial decision that may have far-reaching consequences. The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Aug. 26 vacated and remanded the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s electronic onboard recorder 2010 final rule for motor carriers with significant hours-of-service violations back to the agency for further proceedings.

EOBRs have caused some very heated debates and have many carriers and truckers concerned over the real impact they will have on the industry. Let’s examine the different sides of the issue.

From two of the major organizations with opposing views:

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of OOIDA, said an analysis conducted by FMCSA had stated, “Companies use EOBRs to enforce company policies and monitor drivers’ behavior in other ways.”

“They can contact the driver and put on pressure to get back on the road to get the most of his or her on-duty time, regardless of how fatigued a driver may be,” Spencer said in a statement. “Such a mandate would be a step backward in the effort toward highway safety and is an overly burdensome regulation that simply runs up costs for the majority of trucking, which is small-business.”

American Trucking Associations CEO Bill Graves said in a statement, “The ATA is still reviewing the court’s decision, but supports FMCSA’s efforts to mandate the adoption and use of electronic logging devices for hours-of-service compliance.

“We hope FMCSA will work quickly to address the Court’s decision and the important device design and performance specifications being evaluated by the Administrator’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee.”

Vince Granowicz, a Supply Chain Sales Executive for an asset-based provider of comprehensive, worldwide shipping services, in a recent post on LinkedIn brought some very interesting points to the debate (used by permission of the author):

“Has anyone given thought to what the correlation might be between a reduction in the quality of drivers in the industry (old or new) and the overall reduction in personal interaction brought on by the technology?

It use to be that speaking with the driver daily gave operations some insight into the driver’s mindset/mood. Now a dispatcher can avoid all personal interaction in the name of LEAN practices. Perhaps this is the wrong direction to move forward with the “green” drivers that are confident of their skill set two months after graduating driving school. With everyone in agreement that safety is the most critical piece for any fleet, why do so many believe that mandating EOBR systems is a better way than increased standards and scrutiny for driving schools?

When you manage people, you CANNOT do so effectively by removing all human interaction, so why do so many think that it can work with drivers, drivers who make life and death decisions every moment of everyday?

With decades of government over reaching in the name of revenue generation, why would anyone believe that this is NOT a Pandora’s Box?”

Good question Mr. Granowicz; one that needs to be considered. OOIDA brought some important points into this debate such as: Will the use of EOBRs create an environment where carriers use a driver’s available  Hours of Service information to force a driver to roll down the highway even if they are fatigued? This fits right into the Pandora’s Box theory of Mr. Granowicz.

A good example is drivers who aren’t taught how to read a map. They blindly follow the GPS directions until they have struck a bridge with the trailer they are pulling. Their excuse is, “The GPS told me to turn there.” Are we going to begin hearing similar excuses from truckers who are told by a carrier’s dispatch, “The EOBR says your 10-hour rest break is up; now, get on the road.” When the driver has an accident, will his excuse be, “Even though I was sick three times last night and only got about three hours of sleep, the EOBR said I was OK to drive, and my dispatcher sent me a text message to get on the road or else, so I did.”

Taking the human interaction out of the process, removing the common-sense factor which allows an individual driver to decide when it’s safe and when it’s not, is a dangerous road to go down.

Technology is a good thing if it is used as a tool to augment one’s training and education, but when it is used to replace intelligence and common sense, it becomes dangerous. Stifling, non-yielding regulations won’t ever replace solid training and education. If EOBRs are used like baby monitors, they will dumb down the drivers, thus requiring carriers to overly depend on the technology as a short cut around training and micromanage their truckers, thus creating a downward spiral that will be difficult to reverse.

Technology can’t replace quality training and education when it comes to safety. Shouldn’t the trucking industry and the FMCSA put more emphasis on training and educating truckers, instead of relying on technology to compensate for its lack?  Something to think about.

And while you’re thinking, here’s a link to another, earlier opinion – read it here.  It’s written by safety consultant Dr. Ron Knipling, and was published in 2009 on Heavy Duty Trucking Magazine’s website, Truckinginfo.

Timothy Brady   ©2011   To contact Brady go to www.timothybrady.com