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Status Report, Vol. 49, No. 3 | April 8, 2014 Subscribe

Regulators revive truck recorder rule after legal setback

Federal regulators have rewritten a proposed requirement for electronic logbooks on commercial vehicles in response to a court ruling that had temporarily halted the rulemaking process. The proposal from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) would require interstate commercial truck and bus companies to install electronic logging devices (ELDs) — previously referred to as electronic onboard recorders — that would automatically track drivers' time behind the wheel and their rest breaks.

In announcing the proposal in March, FMCSA said the rule would reduce hours-of-service violations by making it more difficult for drivers to falsify records. That, in turn, would reduce fatigued driving, preventing an estimated 20 deaths and 434 injuries a year, the agency said.

The proposal revives an effort that hit a roadblock in 2011 when the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated an earlier requirement for electronic logging devices for the fleets of truck and bus companies with a record of egregious work-rule violations (see "Onboard recorder rule for trucks and buses hits roadblock in court case," Oct. 13, 2011). The court said FMCSA had failed to address a law requiring it to ensure onboard recorders wouldn't be used to harass drivers. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association contended that, rather than using the information from recorders to ensure drivers get adequate rest, companies instead use it to pressure resting drivers to get back on the road.

The proposal includes an explicit prohibition on harassment of a driver by a company using ELD information. It establishes a procedure for filing harassment complaints and creates a maximum penalty of $11,000 for harassment of a driver that leads to an hours-of-service violation or to a sick or tired driver operating a vehicle, compromising safety.

The Institute has long supported onboard recorders for all large trucks, first petitioning for the devices in 1986. Although current hours-of-service regulations allow too much time on the road — up to 11 hours a day — better compliance with even this weak limit would likely reduce the number of tired drivers (see "Institute supports broader mandate for recorders," April 26, 2011, and "Final hours-of-service rule leaves 11-hour shift intact," Jan. 24, 2012). It's not known how many large truck crashes are caused by fatigue, but research has shown that long hours of driving increase crash risk.

A total of 3,514 people died in large truck crashes in 2012. That's 12 percent more than in 2009, when the number was the lowest since the government began collecting fatal crash data in 1975. Seventeen percent of the people who died in truck crashes were truck occupants, 67 percent were people in cars and other passenger vehicles, and 15 percent were pedestrians, bicyclists or motorcyclists.

Meanwhile, another long-awaited rule could soon be coming. The Department of Transportation said in a recent report that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration may issue a proposal in October to require speed limiters on large trucks. IIHS has supported petitions to mandate the devices (see "Speed limiters in trucks would serve 2 purposes," Aug. 21, 2010).

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