Fleet telematics and EOBR compliance

Fleet telematics and EOBR compliance

Proposed Electronic Onboard Recorder (EOBR) mandates have stoked controversy in the commercial transportation sector. Evolving regulatory efforts, meanwhile, have left many fleet operators with questions. Will Federal guidelines make EOBR devices mandatory? Which fleets will be impacted? What kind of price tag do EOBR devices carry? What benefits do they offer?

Though opponents have been vociferous in their fight against EOBR legislation, mandates are on the way for commercial vehicles. For fleet operators, understanding forthcoming Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) rules will be crucial to ensure compliance. And familiarity with the range of EOBR devices on the market, as well as their capabilities, could help topple lingering apprehension among operators.

What are the rules?

So what rules, if any, exist now? Despite the Federal government’s clear intentions to make EOBR devices standard industry-wide, as of this writing commercial carriers in the US have not been ordered to replace existing paper logs.

But fleet operators who want to minimize the pain of transition to EOBRs when the new rules do come into effect would be wise to pay attention to how the legislation has evolved and what rules are on the horizon.

In 2010, the FMCSA, which is part of the Department of Transportation, took its strongest step toward EOBR implementation by mandating that, effective June 4, 2012, motor carriers found to have severe violations on Hours of Service rules be directed to install EOBR devices in their fleets.

While many carriers felt that this mandate would improve highway safety, others saw it as a violation of drivers’ privacy rights. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), in particular, was outspoken in its opposition to the mandate.

The OOIDA challenged the FMCSA rule in the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit on the grounds that EOBR devices could be used to harass drivers. In August 2011, the Court sided with the OOIDA and voided the 2010 mandate.

Here come EOBRs

Instead of shelving aspirations to replace unreliable paper logs, Federal EOBR proponents redoubled their efforts. A highway bill known as Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), which passed into law on July 6, 2012, contained a key provision mandating that all motor carriers required to file a record of duty status—and not just those found to be in violation of Hours of Service rules—must replace paper logs with EOBRs.

So how are fleets still legally operating without EOBR devices? The MAP-21 highway bill directs the Department of Transportation to issue specific rules regarding the new EOBR mandate. The FMCSA is now determining which technical standards will be used to judge devices compliant.

The agency is also working to address the driver harassment issues that toppled the 2010 mandate. In addition to a public comment and feedback period, the new FDCSA rules will be subject to a three-month White House review. As a result, it could be more than a year before EOBR rules are finalized and the mandate goes into effect.

While the technical specifications for MAP-21-compliant devices are still being hammered out, the general characteristics that compliant devices must have seem clear. Compliant devices will have to interface directly with a vehicle’s engine. This means that systems built around smartphone platforms or Bluetooth technology will not be suitable under forthcoming FMCSA rules.

Keeping records straight

Compliant EOBR devices will need to identify which driver is operating the vehicle and for how long. Devices will record each change of duty status while GPS integration will log vehicle location during transport.

Importantly, law enforcement officials will need to be able to access digital Hours of Service records at any time. And the devices must be tamper-proof, a provision meant to minimize criticisms that have plagued European EOBR mandates amid the proliferation of easily corrupted devices.

Based on FMCSA estimates, MAP-21-compliant devices should cost between $1,500 and $2,000 each to purchase and install. Implementation costs, then, could be quite a burden, even for the smallest fleets. But operators should keep in mind the advantages and long-term savings that EOBR implementation can offer.

For example, existing Hours of Service rules for paper logs require that drivers round up to the nearest fifteen minutes. EOBRs, on the other hand, record to the nearest minute. Weigh station and roadside inspections will be streamlined, with law enforcement officials able to quickly check standardized digital records.

And drivers won’t have to spend valuable time doing paperwork or worrying about potentially costly accounting errors.

Safety is also a big concern and the primary motivator behind forthcoming EOBR mandates. Drivers using EOBR devices, which give regular Hours of Service warnings, will be more aware of the hours they’ve spent on the road and less likely violate Hours of Service rules. Accidents in the industry should decrease.

That fact alone has been enough to convince many reluctant operators that EOBR devices are worth the price.

For more information on EOBR rulemaking activity, read the FMCSA’s Supplemental Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

Greg Nichols is a regular contributor to TU.

For more on fleets, see Special report: Fleet telematics.

For the latest in fleet telematics, visit Telematics Detroit 2013 on June 5-6.

For all the latest telematics trends, check out Insurance Telematics Europe 2013 on May 7-8 in London, Data Business for Connected Vehicles Japan 2013 on May 15-16 in Tokyo, Content & Apps for Automotive Europe 2013 on June 18-19 in Munich, Insurance Telematics USA 2013 on September 4-5 in Chicago, Telematics Russia 2013 on September 9-10 in Moscow, Telematics LATAM 2013 in September in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Telematics Japan 2013 on October 8-10 in Tokyo and Telematics Munich 2013 on November 11-12.

For exclusive telematics business analysis and insight, check out TU’s reports: In-Vehicle Smartphone Integration Report, Human Machine Interface Technologies and Smart Vehicle Technology: The Future of Insurance Telematics.


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