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Federal trucking safety agency proposes rule on electronic on-board recorders

Because driver fatigue is one of the most pervasive safety issues in interstate trucking, trucking safety regulations for many years have included rules on how many hours a driver may drive and be on duty. In almost every serious trucking accident, the accuracy of paper driver logs becomes an issue. As a trucking safety trial attorney in Georgia, I have exerted a great deal of effort over the years investigating other records to determine the truth which does not always match those logs.

Now, after years of controversy, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is proposing a new rule requiring Electronic On-Board Recorders (EOBR).

A proposed rule published published Feb. 1 that would require motor carriers that are required to maintain Records of Duty Status for Hours of Service (HOS) recordkeeping would have to use EOBRs to monitor their drivers’ compliance.

FMCSA’s proposal includes supporting documents these carriers would still be required to obtain and keep, as required by section 113(a) of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Authorization Act, but it would remove requirements to retain supporting documents to verify driving time. It would require all carriers to systematically monitor their drivers’ compliance with HOS requirements, with three years from the effective date of the final rule to comply.

The agency is accepting comments until April 4, 2011. FMCSA had issued a rule on April 5, 2010, that mandated EOBR use by June 4, 2012, by motor carriers found during a compliance review to have a 10 percent violation rate for any HOS regulation. This new rule expands that requirement, with three possible options:

Option 1 would require EOBRs for all drivers required to use paper logs.

Option 2 expands Option 1 to include all passenger-carrying commercial motor vehicles subject to the s and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations shipments of bulk hazardous material, regardless whether the drivers use paper logs or are exempted from doing so.

Option 3 would include all commercial motor vehicle operations subject to the hours of service requirements.

While this is generally a step in the right direction, I’m cynical enough to note that even electronic systems are potentially subject to manipulation and cheating, though the human overrides required to cheat will require more sophistication than merely lying on a paper log, often referred to as a “comic book.” If maintenance of supporting documentation is no longer required, it will become vastly more difficult to check the accuracy of electronic records that may be subject to sophisticated cheating.

Those of us who inquire into the truth underlying hours of service reports will also have to become more sophisticated about discovery of electronically stored information in the trucking industry. That will likely require more experts and more expense.

Ken Shigley is an Atlanta, Georgia, trial attorney. He has been designated a “Super Lawyer” (Atlanta Magazine), one of the “Legal Elite” (Georgia Trend), and rated “AV Preeminent” by Martindale-Hubbell Legal Directory. He is author of Georgia Law of Torts: Trial Preparation & Practice (West, 2010), a Certified Civil Trial Attorney of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, and currently president-elect of the 42,000 member State Bar of Georgia. He has extensive experience in litigation and trial of cases involving serious personal injury, wrongful death, trucking accidents, automobile accidents, products liability, premises liability, and insurance. Mr. Shigley is a graduate of Furman University and Emory University Law School. This blog post is subject to our ethical disclaimer.