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BREAKING NEWS: U.S. proposes 'black box' rule; only repeat violators affected
WASHINGTON -- Two strikes and it's in. That's the rule the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has decided for electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) on trucks. In a press conference this morning, FMCSA Administrator John Hill announced a proposed rule where EOBRs -- once commonly referred to as "black boxes" -- will be required for a minimum of two years for carriers and independent owner-ops deemed "most likely to be a safety hazard on the road." Carriers charged with two serious hours-of-service review violations (with a rate of violation greater than 10%), in a two-year period, will have to fit their entire fleet with EOBRs.

The much anticipated EOBR rule affects only the
Based on FMCSA records, about 930 carriers and 17,500 drivers would be affected if the rule kicked-off today. The compliance monitoring technology will continue to be voluntary for all other carriers, although the agency is introducing incentives to encourage EOBR implementation for all trucks that haul in the U.S. Violators issued an EOBR order will be primarily determined by drivers' record of duty status as part of a DOT company compliance review. HOS problems spotted at roadside inspections will be fed into the system, which would trigger such a review. But FMCSA's Hill did say that approach was not set in stone, and the agency would consider other ideas during the upcoming public comment period. The proposal would require EOBRs to record basic information needed to track a driver’s duty status, including, identity of the driver, duty status, date, time and location of the commercial vehicle, and distance traveled. It would also add a new requirement to use a standard Global Positioning System (GPS) technology or other location tracking systems to automatically identify the location of the vehicle. On-board HOS recording devices that are installed in commercial vehicles manufactured on or after two years from the effective date of a final rule (which Hill estimates will be between 18 months and two years from now) would have to meet these new technical requirements, but EOBRs, based on current technology, voluntarily installed before that time would be allowed to continue for the life of the vehicle. The agency still has to iron out details on how to standardize EOBR technology for industry-wide use. Currently a driver has to provide a roadside officer with a printout. Even with many EOBR systems, the officer has to climb into the cab to read the screen. "Our proposed specification would dramatically improve the convenience of these devices as safety tools," says Hill, who says there will be a standard display of specific data fields so "no matter where you are or which device you are using, every read-out and display will be in identical format.

FMCSA wants to ensure uniformity of EOBR
technology regardless of manufacturer or model
"Uniformity will help drivers and law enforcement use this technology regardless of manufacturer or model." Additionally, says Hill, the information will have to be easily downloaded either though hardware or wireless transmission. In Canada -- where a similar proposal is still under review by regulators -- the Canadian Trucking Alliance was the first trucking group to officially endorse an EOBR mandate for North America. CTA exec David Bradley told Today's Trucking recently that an EOBR regulation is a good idea because the technology would even out the playing field between compliant carriers and truckers who think they can get an edge by violating the rules. His colleague, CTA Chairman Claude Robert of Robert Transport, is on the record as calling paper logs "a joke." In 2004, the Federal Circuit Court -- based on a challenge from special interest group Public Citizen -- threw out the FMCSA's new HOS regime and at the same time chastised the transport agency for not including an EOBR component to the new rule. FMCSA revised its rules in 2005, but decided in would publish a separate standalone regulation for EOBRs. Hill couldn't answer whether he thought this proposal would silence the government's critics and the courts, but did say FMCSA worked diligently to complete its mandate. He also stressed, as a proposal, there is still the ability to improve the rule and smooth out any rough edges. "We feel this is the right place to start," he said. "But we want to hear what the public thinks about it." The full Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will be published in the Federal Register on January 18, 2007, and public comments will be accepted until April 18, 2007.
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