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Status Report, Vol. 40, No. 2 | January 31, 2005 Subscribe

ATA softens longtime anti-recorder stance, but now FMCSA lags behind

The American Trucking Associations (ATA), long opposed to requiring electronic on-board recorders to track truck drivers' work hours, has softened its stance. An editorial in ATA's publication, iTECH, concludes that "maybe it's time to belly up to the [onboard recorder] bar."

This pronouncement follows ATA's statement in November that it's "beginning to see greater support" for recorders among members including Overnite Transportation, FedEx Express, and J.B. Hunt Transport. The electronic recorders would replace the easily falsified handwritten logbooks that almost all U.S. truckers use to track their driving hours and indicate compliance with federally mandated daily and weekly limits on work hours.

"Ever since 1986 when the Institute and others began petitioning federal regulators to require recorders, ATA has fought them tooth and nail," says Institute research vice president Anne McCartt. "Now with the motor carriers coming around FMCSA [the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration] should move very quickly to require recorders."

So far the agency hasn't signaled it will. Instead it has returned to the beginning of the regulatory process with an advance notice of proposed rulemaking. This comes after FMCSA proposed requiring recorders in 2000 but then omitted this from a final rule on truck driver hours in 2003 (see "New work-hour rules for truckers won't improve safety," June 16, 2003, and "Try again on rules on truck driving hours, appeals court tells FMSCA," Aug. 1, 2004). In striking down this rule last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia pointed to FMCSA's "questionable rationality" in declining to test the recorders already on the road.

"After the court weighed in, we expected some meaningful action, not what looks like a delay tactic in going back to an advance notice," McCartt says. "FMCSA ought to move now that ATA has backed off from being so strongly anti-recorder."

Meanwhile, the European Union is nearing the effective date for requiring recorders in summer 2005. In Canada support for a requirement was announced last November by ATA's counterpart. The head of the Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents more than 4,500 motor carriers, said a rule is "imperative from a safety point of view, which of course is paramount, but also in terms of providing responsible carriers with a level playing field."

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