FMCSA Regulations on EOBR: The Spy in the Cab Black Box is Just the Beginning

The Federal Motor Safety Carrier Administration (FMSCA) introduced a new Electronic OnBoard Recorders (EOBR) ruling in April 2010. The EOBR rule comes into effect on June 4, 2012 and for the first time it mandates EOBR use for nominated groups of carriers. The bottom line is that FMSCA will be able to say who must install EOBR to ensure Hours of Service (HOS) compliance.

Moving from paper-based to electronic logs is not likely to be a major issue for most truckers. The burden is going to come from yet again having to deal with the administrative changes, particularly the ability to monitor compliance and demonstrate it to regulators. While EOBR technology is likely to produce greater HOS information, for many operators it will be managing the data, and implementing the changing performance criteria, which will cause the most problems. A further issue will be how law enforcement agencies will be able to adapt to the new framework and enforce it.

The new EOBR rules strengthen the previous FMSCA rules of June 2007. The biggest change is the new FMCSA power to impose EOBR on individual operators if they have an HOS compliance issue. One egregious aspect of this new power is that operators do not need to be given any time to engage in remedial action to correct HOS compliance defects. Bottom line - the FMCSA finds you are not compliant, as they see it, and you must install an EOBR.

From June 2012, if FMCSA finds a carrier has a "violation rate" of 10% or more for any aspect of the HOS regulations (specifically those in Appendix C of rule 385), then an EOBR must be fitted. EOBRs must remain installed for a minimum 2 year period thereafter. With the original rule set, the FMCSA estimated that only 930 carriers would be required to fit EOBRs; with this significant strengthening of the rule, over 5,700 carriers are going to be affected (though you should note that FMCSA handles only interstate carriers). When the original rule was announced, it was thought that those carriers who had a crash rate greater than 90% of the rest of the interstate trucking population would be caught (the 930 number), but now if a carrier has a crash rate higher than 40%, they are going to be caught.

If a carrier is caught by the new EOBR rules, they will have 60 days to install the EOBR (reduced to 45 days for passenger vehicles and hazardous material handlers). There is some leeway on using EOBR units which have been fitted prior to the rule implementation; provided they can demonstrate that the drivers understand how they are to be used. There is also an appeals procedure for administrative review within 15 days of the FMCSA's compliance notice, which will effectively suspend EOBR installation if the carrier files the appeal.

Overall, the EOBR rules can be seen as the thin end of the wedge. Initially, the FMCSA claimed less than a thousand carriers would be affected, but now almost six thousand will be. As technology improves, why should EOBR with enhanced tracking features form a part of every interstate commercial vehicle? If the answer to that question is, "There is no reason." Then you can expect EOBRs to be fitted to every tractor trailer in the country at some point in the future.

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