Electronic Hours of Service – Why? Transport Topics Editorial

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

Paperless Hours of Service Logs

Maintaining Compliance and Automating Regulatory Duties for Commercial Drivers


Electronic On Board Recorders (EOBR’s) are now available from several sources, easing the burden of hours-of-service compliance for drivers and carriers, and providing many ancillary benefits, as well.  Making the right choices on whether or not to invest in EOBR’s, choosing the right product, and implementing a program in your fleet will be critical to your success.


Making the wrong choices could result in your failure to comply with the regulations, and possibly even losing your fleet’s operating authority as well as potential corporate, and even personal, liability for violators.  It is important to understand what EOBR’s do, how they work, and what they can do for your fleet.


Hours of Service for Commercial Drivers in North America

Just as in the airline, maritime, oil production and railroad industries, commercial motor vehicle operators and drivers in the United States and Canada must comply with hours of service regulations, the purpose of which is to prevent tired drivers from driving and endangering themselves and others. These drivers, and their employers, face the task of maintaining compliance with the regulations, while at the same time maximizing productivity and profitability.  Failure to comply with hours of service regulations often results in unsafe driving practices, increased risk to all members of the driving public, and increased exposure to litigation for the carrier and its officers.  Penalties for non-compliance can range from moderate fines to very expensive fines, loss of operating authority, and incarceration for egregious violators.


By regulation, drivers have a limited number of hours they may drive (driving time) and a limited number of hours they may work (on duty not driving).  Once these limits are reached, a period of off duty time or sleeper berth time must be taken to “reset” tour of duty limits.  If a sleeper berth is used, drivers may accumulate the total number of hours needed to rest in more than one period of time, provided certain rules are met.  In addition, drivers can accumulate only a certain number of hours in any previous 7, 8, or (in Canada only) 14 day period.


The United States and Canada each have their own hours of service regulations, with different required work, driving, resting, and total accumulated working times.  Mexico does not currently have HOS regulations, but NAFTA and other influences could initiate legislation there.  Many states have rules that differ from the United States federal rule, applicable when a vehicle does not travel outside the borders of that state.  All Canadian provinces have varying rules for commercial motor vehicles operating within their borders.  Both Canada and the United States have specific hours of service rule sets that apply only to specific vocations. These vocations include agriculture, water well drilling, oil well drilling, utilities, home fuel deliveries, and essential transportation modes during times of great need.


Drivers must use a “record of duty status”, commonly referred to as a log book, to monitor and prove compliance with the hours of service regulations applicable.  Drivers and carriers must keep these logs for a specified period of time (commonly 6 months) in the event of an audit.





The Background of Automated Hours of Service Compliance

Since 1988, electronic devices have been approved in lieu of handwritten records[1].  In Canada, electronic devices that may be used in lieu of handwritten records are also allowed.[2] This is a recent revision to Canada’s original acceptance of electronic hours of service compliance in 1994.


The specifications for these electronic devices are specific, and are expected to become more stringent with upcoming regulatory and legislative actions.  Some industry watchers are expecting a mandate of these devices because of highway safety and security concerns. Thousands of fleets have used electronic logs since 1988, easing the burden of compliance and reaping productivity benefits.  As of this writing there is no mandate for electronic logs, so fleets must find some benefit to justify the costs.  Fleets may simply want to be good corporate citizens, ensuring that their vehicles are operated in a safe manner.  Some fleets operate in a hazardous environment where safety and fatigue management are paramount.  Many fleets obtain a return on their investment through other benefits of an onboard computer, such as better driving habits and productivity.


Several times since 1988, calls have been made by various groups to mandate electronic log devices in the name of highway safety.  The Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA) calls these devices Electronic Onboard Recorders (EOBR’s).  An EOBR is a device that electronically automates drivers HOS record keeping requirements.  An EOBR, by definition, does not include any other functionality such as fuel taxes, driving performance, or productivity tools.  However, because fleets demand these other functions to obtain their return on investment, there are no pure EOBR devices on the market today.


Not all devices that are considered to produce “electronic logs” are compliant with these specifications.  For example, in 1994 Werner Enterprises wanted to use their existing Qualcomm OmniTracs system to automate their drivers’ logs.  Because the system did not meet all of the requirements of 395.15, they requested a waiver from the FMCSA exempting them from these requirements.  The FMCSA granted Werner a temporary waiver from the requirements of 395.15 in 1998, and has subsequently renewed the waiver for Werner in 2004.


No other waivers for non-compliant devices have been issued in the United States or Canada.  While compliant electronic log devices have existed for twenty years, not all electronic log devices are compliant.  Non-compliant devices can not be used in lieu of handwritten logs. By regulation, it is the carrier that bears the responsibility of compliance, not the manufacturer of the device.


This issue raises several questions:

  • What makes a device compliant?
  • What benefits can be derived from automated hours of service compliance?
  • What can I expect from a fully compliant system? 


What makes an EOBR Compliant?

In the United States, CFR 49 Part 395.15 details the specific regulations concerning an EOBR.  However, Part 395 must be considered in its entirety when determining if a device is compliant.  Compliance is measured in conformance to the specific EOBR regulations, ease of use by the driver, accuracy, tamper resistance, and acceptance as an accurate log by inspectors.


It is important to remember that the use of an EOBR does not exempt drivers or carriers from compliance with the FMCSA’s regulations.  Carriers must still protect the audit trail, drivers must still comply with HOS requirements, and logs can not be tampered with or unlawfully altered.  The spirit of 395.15 is to ensure the integrity of EOBR-generated drivers’ daily logs.


  1. Is the EOBR powered by the vehicle, and is it portable or integrated into the vehicle and does it reliably keep date and time?  In order to be reliable and tamper-resistant, an EOBR must be integrated into the vehicle so that it can not be easily defeated, altered, or turned off.  This is of primary consideration when determining the reliability of an EOBR.  You simply can not use a device that can be disabled and still be compliant.  Auditors and inspectors use recorded distance to audit the accuracy of drivers’ logs.  Therefore, accurate distance is important, although an EOBR is not required to record or display speed.
  2. Does the device obtain distance from the vehicle? Obtaining distance from a vehicle sensor or data bus is considered accurate if the device is properly calibrated.  Obtaining distance from an external source such as GPS is not adequate under the current regulations, due to the nature of GPS signal loss and the resulting missing distance.  A study by the University of Oregon concluded that up to 28% of actual distance can be lost with a GPS-only device.  It has been concluded that certain types of topographical features create a higher loss of GPS signal, with urban and mountainous, forested areas leading the list. [3]
  3. Is the driver’s entire history available onboard?  All required history must be stored in and retrievable from the automatic onboard recording device, and must be accessible immediately upon demand.  Wireless communications systems alone can not be relied on to retrieve a history of status changes while on the road.  Drivers are required to keep 8 days history, including the current day, on board.[4]
  4. Can the EOBR handle multiple drivers?  The device must be capable of handling every commercial driver in the vehicle, calculate and display their hours and their status changes separately.
  5. How is slip-seating handled?  This is an example of how the entire context of Part 395 must be used to determine a device’s compliance.  While slip-seating is not specifically mentioned, it is clear that an EOBR must store and calculate onboard the drivers’ hours and status changes.  All drivers’ histories must be immediately available.  Can drivers obtain their history wherever they change shifts or trucks?  Will their logs follow them from truck to truck?  If a wireless network is used, is there a mechanism in place in the event of a failure in wireless coverage?  Regardless of the circumstances, location, or technology involved, drivers must always have their history with them anytime they are in a commercial motor vehicle.
  6. How are edits handled?  Drivers will make mistakes in logging on and off duty.  However, drivers are expressly prohibited from correcting or editing entries they make in the vehicle.  Asked to clarify the regulation, the FMCSA declined to allow driver edits, responding:

“If drivers, who use automatic onboard recording devices, were allowed to amend their record of duty status while in transit, legitimate amendments could not be distinguished from falsifications.    Records of duty status maintained and generated by an automatic onboard recording device may only be amended by a supervisory motor carrier official to accurately reflect the driver’s activity.  Such supervisory motor carrier official must include an explanation of the mistake in the remarks section of either the original or amended record of duty status.  Both the original and the amended record of duty status must be retained by the motor carrier.”[5]

Carriers need to make sure that the system is easily operated by drivers, reducing the opportunity for driver errors.  When corrections are needed, the system must handle these edits so that the FMCSA does not view these edits as log falsifications.  Are supervisors readily and easily notified of potentially needed edits, and are these edits clearly marked as such?

  1. Can the EOBR accurately handle all of the applicable hours of service regulations for the geography you operate in, and in your specific vocation? 

Alaska, California, Florida and Texas have rules that differ from the federal for all intrastate commerce.  These rules generally look like the US Federal rules, pre-2003, except more driving time is allowed than under the federal regulations.

All Canadian provinces have rules that differ from each other and from the Canadian federal hours of service guidelines.  Some vocations, most notably oil and water drilling operations, have exemptions from federal and state regulations in the number of hours required for a reset, driving allowed, and on duty allowed.  Both Canada and the United States allow vocational exemptions.  There are currently 26 hours of service rule sets in North America covering these exceptions and exemptions.  These rules sets will likely become more numerous as more stringent regulations bring about more requests for exemptions and exceptions.

  1. Is the EOBR vendor a viable business partner?  Does the supplier have the financial viability to provide innovative products and to support their products over an extended period of time?  Does the vendor possess the technical expertise to assist you in training, implementation, and audits?  What do others say about their quality of products and services?  Do they have the experience to offer meaningful advice, and to integrate their experience into their product design?



What benefits are derived from paperless hours of service logging?

Drivers appreciate electronic logs.  The implementation of an EOBR system creates a positive impression that the company cares about safety, and is committed to giving the drivers a reasonable and legal work environment.  Companies who invest in safety are good corporate citizens.  Properly preparing hand-written logs is time consuming, involves several math computations, and displaces part of the driver’s focus on his real job.  It is common for drivers to save 15 to 30 minutes per day when they do not have to fill out paper logs.

Supervisors can easily track drivers’ availability.  This enhances planning and dispatching, allowing the most capable driver to handle appropriate tasks.  With the proper exception reporting tools, supervisors will not need to review each individual log, focusing on exceptions and violations.  It is a carrier’s responsibility to review each log submitted by every driver.  The ability to focus solely on the problems can create tremendous time savings.

Risk management can ensure that company and regulatory standards are adhered to, reducing the risk of fatigue-related incidents and providing an extra layer of protection from litigious activities. Company standards can be more creative and tailored for a specific operation, because of the ability to accurately track drivers’ activities.  Some EOBR’s grade and monitor driving performance.  This allows management to become proactive, so that the little incidents do not turn into the big incident.  Some EOBR’s provide detailed accident and incident recording, providing valuable insight during investigation.  This insight can guide management on the proper handling of corrective action and litigation.

Because many EOBR’s and onboard computers measure and monitor many vehicle and driver activities, fleets use this information to impact the bottom line.  Fleets realize a return on their investment in areas such as:

  • Fuel savings through reduced speed, idle, and panic stops
  • Improved safety through reduced exposure and improved driving habits
  • Automation of clerical functions, such as payroll and customer deliveries
  • Improved fleet utilization with better driver work discipline and route planning
  • Automation of other regulatory information such as IRP and IFTA
  • Better fleet and corporate image
  • Better customer service by tracking vehicles and deliveries

What can I expect from a fully compliant EOBR system?

An onboard computer or EOBR system should provide the assurance that it will adequately and accurately record and report on drivers’ hours of service activities. Log books will become obsolete, focusing drivers on their job.  Supervisors will be able to manage individual exceptions and events, freeing up time for more meaningful activities.  Risk can be better managed by creating more intelligent safety initiatives and insuring compliance.  Because electronic logs have been allowed without waiver for since 1988, there should be little risk implementing EOBR’s. Be certain that your vendor has the experience and resources to guide you through the implementation period.  Decide what areas of your organization will benefit from EOBR’s, and aggressively track your return on investment.

Thank you for your interest in this white paper.  You can learn more about fleet management systems and electronic onboard recorders at www.JBATelemactics.com.

[1] Title 49, Part 395, FMCSA Code of Federal Regulations

[2] P.C. 2005-1816, Motor Vehicle Transportation Act, Commercial Vehicle Drivers Hours of Service Regulations.

[3] Technology Development and System Integration for a Vehicle Miles Traveled Based Revenue Collection System Prototype, David S. Kim and J. David Porter

[4] FMCSA Regulation 395.8(k)(2) and 395.15(h)(5)(iv/v)

[5] FMCSA Part 395.15(i)(3), FMCSA official interpretation to “Question 2” on Part 395.15