Electronic Hours of Service – Why? Transport Topics Editorial

Jul 14, 2006 | Articles

Electronic Hours of Service – Why?

An electronic onboard recorder (EOBR) is the FMCSA’s nomenclature for a device that produces compliant, paperless, electronic drivers’ hours of service logs.  These devices have been approved in lieu of handwritten records in the United States and Canada for the last 18 years.  Several times since then, calls have been made by various groups to mandate electronic log devices in the name of highway safety.  In spite of the fact that these devices remain entirely voluntary, thousands of fleets have adopted them.  Why do fleets spend money on onboard computer technology? 


Fleets implement technology because it increases their returns; either through increased safety, higher revenue miles, or lower operating costs.  Onboard computer (OBC) systems available today perform many functions; vehicle maintenance tracking, accident recording, two-way communications, driving performance monitoring, dispatch and routing, inventory control, proof of delivery, trailer tracking, and a host of other interesting features.  In many cases, this may have nothing to do with FMCSA compliant electronic logs.  The ability to do paperless logs, in today’s driver-driven environment, is just one of the many reasons that fleets use onboard technology.


What occurs in our industry every time an accident happens involving a commercial motor vehicle?  Safety and the public’s perception of our industry go hand in hand.  The implementation of an onboard computer system creates a positive impression that the company cares about safety, and is committed to giving the drivers a reasonable and legal work schedule.  An EOBR makes it easier to measure HOS compliance, providing the tools to adjust dispatch schedules with greater efficiency.  Onboard computers that measure driving performance give the driver feedback on critical driving habits that directly influence safety and fuel efficiency.  Over time, it is proven that this type of professional environment improves driver retention.  A recent survey conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) shows that “motor carriers using EOBRs have not experienced the negative impacts on driver retention expected by the motor carrier non-users”.


Increased complexity of US and Canadian rules, especially regarding sleeper berth provisions and short haul operations, increases the burden on carriers/drivers to accurately keep their logs.  With every concession, exemption, or exception for a segment of industry, hours of service rules become harder to understand and calculate.  In the middle of this dynamic environment, drivers and fleet operators are under increasing pressure to comply.  The law becomes harder to understand, and harder to communicate.  The repercussions of non-compliance become harsher for carriers and drivers.  In this environment, shifting clerical tasks away from drivers is a proven best practice.  According to the ATRI, fleets that use EOBRs report 19% increased driver retention and 76% report increased driver morale after they implemented these devices.


The FMCSA estimates that drivers using electronic logs spend 20 minutes less per day filling out paperwork than drivers using paper logs.  However, many fleets report greater time savings with paperless logs, especially with the most recent sleeper berth rules.  Properly preparing hand-written logs is time consuming, difficult, and displaces part of the driver’s focus on their real job.  Further, more drivers are entering today’s job market without any previous connection to our industry.  Educating these new drivers on today’s HOS rules is difficult.


How does this work?  The fleet indicates which of the 26 currently applicable rule sets are suitable in their operation.  This allows the system to operate within the 6 or 7 day cycle, intrastate or interstate, applying proper exemptions and exceptions.  The driver indicates the beginning and end of work periods by electing on duty and off duty statuses.  The EOBR calculates distance, determines location at each change of status, and keeps track of worked and available hours.  Fleets can elect to automatically warn drivers when they are in danger of exceeding allowable time, and to warn drivers when they exceed allowable time.  Any time the vehicle is stopped, drivers can look up a detailed daily log or a summary recap of hours.


Back at the office, the truck communicates back via several different methods, from satellite to terrestrial to 802.11 hotspots to memory cards.  Carriers can review logs that are current up to the last synchronization.  More important, carriers can instantly review who is in and out of compliance, as well as plan dispatch schedules, without reviewing each individual log or relying on manually created recaps.


Although rumors of mandated electronic logs have circulated for years, our industry has not waited for the federal government to act.  Lower cost, easier to use, more reliable technology that increases fleet safety has been adopted without governmental intervention.  Government intervention will change the availability, price, and complexity of telematics and onboard computers.  What’s worth considering is the voluntary adoption of an EOBR.  Is it not better to voluntarily adopt a known and improving technology now; or wait to install a mandated and static technology when it is forced on our industry.


Joel Beal

Senior Vice President

Tripmaster Corporation

About the Author


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