EOBR Mandate: Compliance Or Convenience?

Electronic on-board recorders can improve productivity, but should they be mandated?

A recent proposal from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety has been met with mixed reviews from those in the gases and welding industry. The notice of proposed rulemaking, published on January 31, seeks to mandate the use of electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) for all motor carriers whose drivers currently use log books to monitor their hours of service (HOS). The purpose of the mandate, according to FMCSA, is chiefly aimed at regulatory compliance. “We believe broader use of EOBRs would give carriers and drivers an effective tool to strengthen their HOS compliance,” says FMCSA Administrator Anne S. Ferro.

Smaller distributors are worried about the cost of such a mandate. Drew Baiter, operations manager at Abbott Welding Supply (Olean, NY), says cost is a major concern. “As a small business, especially of our size, it would definitely be a financial burden.” Exactly how much could the mandate cost distributors? In its Preliminary Regulatory Evaluation, FMCSA based the study on a device that cost $1,675, with a $100 installation fee, an estimated $500 in maintenance every five years and a minimum $40-per-month service fee.

As Baiter notes, distributors also need to consider the added cost of keeping employees up to speed. “In addition to the cost of the device, there is the cost of training employees on compliance changes and how to use the devices.” The combined cost is not insignificant, and would likely have to be passed on to the customer in one way or another. However, the cost of EOBRs is little next to the proposed penalty of $11,000 per offense.

Kelly Bladow, safety and compliance manager at Oxarc (Spokane, WA) and chair of GAWDA’s Safety Committee, says the devices could have a very positive impact. “From a safety standpoint, I think it’s a great idea. It would give us better control over our drivers’ hours of service and would allow us to see if any drivers are operating above speed limits or in an unsafe fashion.”

According to Rick Schweitzer, GAWDA government affairs and human resources legal counsel, many larger companies have already adopted EOBRs, and not just to comply with hours of service regulations. “Many of the devices do a lot more than recording hours of service. They can do engine analysis, measure fuel economy and give readouts of drivers’ speed,” says Schweitzer. “Companies are going to EOBRs for the productivity improvements and the ability to manage driver behaviors.”

While costs of adopting EOBRs are nothing to scoff at, the devices are not without cost-saving benefits of their own. Fuel economy monitoring can help distributors identify optimal speed and idling practices to cut down on fuel consumption. Bladow points to the benefit of a paperless process. “On-board recorders eliminate the need for paper logs, which should reduce the work for everybody. It will save time in fuel reporting, taxes and hours of service recordkeeping.” The proposed rule would also save on paperwork by relieving distributors from retaining certain HOS supporting documents, such as delivery and toll receipts, which are currently used to verify the total number of hours drivers spend operating the vehicle.

Under the proposal, 16 of Oxarc’s 47 trucks would need to be outfitted with EOBRs. However, Bladow says it would be worth the investment to outfit the entire fleet. “I was already looking into software to provide real-time tracking, engine analysis and routing capabilities. Now I’ll start looking into on-board recorders.”

Baiter, on the other hand, who says that Abbott Welding Supply’s five trucks would likely fall under the proposed rule’s exemption due to air mile radius, doesn’t think that the company will be investing in the technology anytime soon. “While it would be useful to have real-time data, there are other tools that we have that can tell us the same information. By tracking cylinders electronically using handheld devices, for example, I can see how long it takes our drivers to get from one customer location to another and how long they have been spending at each location based on our tracking information.”

While there are pros and cons related to the proposed mandate for EOBRs, Schweitzer says it has not yet been determined what stance GAWDA will take on the proposal. There are clearly benefits to electronic on-board recorders, but these benefits do come at a price. When it comes down to it, the purpose of the mandate is to help carriers with hours of service compliance. As Schweitzer says, “You can’t really argue that you want the opportunity not to comply with the hours of service rule.”

What do you think? Should electronic on-board recorders be mandated for all motor carriers or should businesses be able to decide for themselves if the convenience is worth the cost?

Gases and Welding Distributors Association