by Sean Kilcarr
Traditionally unpopular with drivers, EOBRs are starting to gain acceptance
Proposed federal regulations mandating the use of electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs)—often called electronic driver logs or black boxes—have yet to be formally proposed; however, many in the trucking industry believe companies should start adopting them now, as they can offer significant cost savings.
“For starters, the new hours-of-service (HOS) rules that are going into effect [in July] will be difficult to comply with manually using paper logbooks,” explained John Gaither, senior sales executive and engineer for technology provider GPS Insight. “Use of EOBRs not only reduce the amount of time required to keep logbooks in compliance, they can also help fleets improve their Compliance, Safety, Accountability (CSA) scores as well.”
But one thing, above all others, is that trucking cannot avoid dealing with this technology. It has been mandated for all truckers as part of the highway funding bill, dubbed the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21, signed into law back in July 2012.
Speaking during a webinar on the subject, Dave Kraft, director of industry affairs for Qualcomm Enterprise Services (QES), said EOBRs do present a series of challenges as well as potential benefits to the industry.
“The timeline for EOBRs established by the MAP-21 funding bill is very straightforward,” Kraft said. “The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) must issue a final rule on EOBRs by Oct. 1, 2013, with an effective date of implementation as of Oct. 1, 2015.”
While he noted that MAP-21 is “very specific” on the EOBR timeline, Kraft said FMCSA won’t take a rigid approach to implementation, largely because of the very nature of the regulatory process.
“It’ll take at least a year for whatever rule they propose to become a final rule, so I really wouldn’t expect them to produce a final rule until mid-2014,” he noted. “FMCSA also has to address other issues as well, such as the potential for ‘driver harassment,’ which is the subject of an ongoing lawsuit by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn.”
Another reason FMCSA may take a “go slow” approach to proposing and finalizing this mandated EOBR rule is that it has already been down this road before, losing a court battle over its prior attempt to craft an EOBR mandate and forcing the agency to rescind that rule last year.
This time, however, the EOBR mandate has a better chance as it is part of federal legislation. The questions facing fleets, then, are how to comply with the mandate without disrupting their operations, and how to derive benefits from the technology while doing so.
“What carriers really need to do is avoid ‘11th hour’ implementation of technology. Don’t wait until the last minute,” Kraft cautioned. “Because the mandate is in MAP-21, sooner or later fleets must comply with it. While it doesn’t mean you have to run out and get one today, you have to start planning now.”
But Kraft also believes there’s value in acting sooner rather than later, especially in terms of avoiding business disruptions. He also stressed that there are several positives to consider with EOBRs as well. The first is that there are some 500,000 EOBRs currently in use, up from just 200,000 in 2009.
Another benefit EOBRs bring to the table is a significant reduction in paperwork and other administrative costs connected to managing paper logbooks. Qualcomm’s research indicates that a move to EOBRs could eliminate 688 hours of administrative work per driver per year.
“Driver satisfaction is an intangible benefit as well,” Kraft added. “We’ve found that once EOBRs are in place, it not only improves time management for drivers and logging accuracy, it reduces job stress to a degree since the devices now automatically track metrics they used to have to calculate by hand.”
Some of the biggest fleets in trucking are discovering that EOBRs can actually aid in driver recruitment.
TL carrier Werner Enterprises, for one, noted that it adopted a paperless logbook system back in 1996 that was subsequently approved for use by the FMCSA in 1998. “We believe that as EOBRs become the industry standard and industry requirement, EOBR use will help to level the competitive field for transit times, driver recruiting, driver retention, and rates,” the carrier noted in its 2012 earnings report.
“Our entire tractor fleet has been fully equipped with EOBRs for over two years,” TL carrier Knight Transportation stated in its 2012 earnings report issued in January. “We believe this [EOBR] mandate will allow the carriers that have already adopted EOBRs to be more competitive in recruiting and retaining driving associates.”
QES’s Kraft also pointed out that the wider adoption of EOBRs in recent years is helping spur some positive safety trend lines as well. Kraft said that there’s been a 12% reduction in total logbook violations and a corresponding 12% decline in out-of-service tallies linked to hours-of-service violations over the past several years as EOBR usage has increased.
The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance noted that out of 48,815 North American Standard Level 1 inspections conducted back in June during its 25th annual Roadcheck inspection blitz, just 22.4% of vehicles and 3.9% of drivers were placed out of service, the second lowest level ever achieved over the past quarter century; HOS-related violations relative to all out-of-service violations declined slightly.
“This is all occurring at a time when the number of ongoing roadside inspections is staying relatively consistent,” Kraft noted. “In sum, I think there’s a lot that can be gained from adopting this technology.”
Tom Cuthbertson, vice president-regulatory compliance for XRS Corp., agrees. “CSA, for one, is changing the way trucking businesses must operate,” he said. “Now, CSA scores are easily accessible to shippers, insurance companies, and prospective drivers for review. In order to remain competitive in the industry, carriers must maintain strong CSA scores and that means attracting and retaining drivers with excellent safety records.”
EOBR-derived data not only helps drivers support such safety records, they can also be a tool for receiving pay for time lost at shippers’ docks. “With the data [from EOBRs] to support those extra charges, carriers have the ability to bill for the time and compensate their drivers accordingly,” he said.
GPS Insight’s Gaither also draws a connection between EOBRs and improved CSA scores, claiming that eight types of HOS violations under CSA can be virtually eliminated by using EOBRs, especially in terms of providing roadside inspectors with a simple way to check logbook data.
“But remember that old saying, ‘Show me the money’? EOBRs not only reduce the time drivers spend updating their logbooks—some 15 to 30 minutes per day—they eliminate the cost of paper forms and the clerical work required to file paper logbooks for six months, as well as the clerical work required to meet a DOT audit of logbook records,” he said.
For example, Gaither points to his company’s new EOBR-1000 device, which combines GPS tracking and an electronic driver log with electronic driver vehicle inspection reports (DVIRs) to ensure compliance with HOS rules and vehicle maintenance upkeep required under CSA. One of the firm’s clients is saving $9 million annually just with the DVIR function alone, he said.
For those reasons, Gaither stresses that by adopting EOBRs early, fleets not only accumulate savings but get ahead of the technological curve before federal mandates impose such devices on the industry.
“It’s not a question of ‘if’ where EOBRs are concerned; it’s a question of ‘when,’” he emphasized. “EOBRs will happen; they’ve been mandated by Congress.”
The question is, will you be ready
Electronic onboard recorders (EOBRs), which are also sometimes called electronic logging devices (ELDs), are soon to be mandated equipment in the trucking industry. XRS Corp. believes it’s vital for carriers and drivers alike to understand exactly how EOBRs work, what kinds of data they record, and what kinds of savings can be generated by using such technology.
XRS said EOBRs installed in commercial vehicles can monitor and record a host of data about both the vehicle and its driver— from pure ELDs that track driver hours-of-service (HOS) information, to devices that record driver vehicle inspection reports electronically, to ones that also track speeding, idle time, and hard-braking events. Many EOBRs integrate map and route solutions as well.
EOBRs work via a direct connection to a vehicle’s engine control module, recording and storing data that is transmitted wirelessly back to the motor carrier—not the Dept. of Transportation or other government entity—XRS stressed. Fleets can analyze
EOBR-collected data solely for HOS compliance or to manage performance more effectively in order to cut fuel costs, ensure timely vehicle maintenance, and provide more real-time data regarding shipment arrival.
What data do EOBRs capture? For starters, XRS said they must record the name of driver and any co-driver(s), along with corresponding driver identification information (such as a user ID and password). However, the name of the driver and any co-driver is not required to be transmitted as part of the downloaded file during a roadside inspection.
Other important information EOBRs must track in order to be compliant with the rules includes: driver duty status; date and time; location of the commercial vehicle; distance traveled; name and DOT number of the motor carrier; 24-hour period starting time (e.g., midnight, 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m.); the multiday basis (seven or eight days) used by the motor carrier to compute cumulative duty hours and driving time; hours in each duty status for the 24-hour period plus total hours; truck or tractor and trailer number; and shipping document number(s) or name of shipper and commodity.
A compliant device will also send the driver an audible or visual alert when they’re nearing their driving limit, approaching their on-duty time limit for a 24-hour period, or are nearing their weekly on-duty or driving time limitations, XRS said.
How much do EOBRs cost? XRS said the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimated the total per vehicle cost of EOBRs at $785 for 10 years, along with a $40 wireless monthly connection fee, a $100 installation expense, and manufacturer-estimated repair costs for the unit after an expected standard three-year warranty expires. Training costs are considered negligible, as FMCSA estimated they will be $2.50 per unit.
Can EOBRs really save drivers and carriers time and money? In making the switch from paper logbooks to EOBRs or ELDs, XRS said FMCSA anticipates savings of $688 annually per driver as the result of paper management reductions, which also cost drivers time behind the wheel. Electronic logs are permitted to round up to the nearest minute, as opposed to the nearest 15 min. as required by paper logs, so making the switch to EOBRs gives drivers more time where they want it—on the road.
XRS also referred to a study by consulting firm Aberdeen Group, which found that for those drivers using EOBRs routinely, fleet regulatory compliance increased 26%, while driver compliance jumped 28%. That study also found that fleets using EOBRs cut operating costs by 10%, reduced vehicle downtime by 15%, and improved vehicle utilization by 13%.
XRS noted that customers using its EOBR device are reporting a range of benefits. According to the company, one intermodal trucking company increased fuel economy by 7.8%, reduced preventable accidents by 75%, and cut administration costs by $100,000, while a nationwide food distributor increased fuel economy from 4.8 mpg to nearly 6.4 and paid for its fleet management software system in just 14 months.