The U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down a rule imposed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) requiring the use of electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs) by drivers working for carriers that have been found to be significantly out of compliance with HOS rules in the past. The rule mandating the use of EOBRs, which would be used to ensure compliance with Hours-of-Service (HOS) regulations, was ruled invalid on the basis that in developing it the FMCSA did not adequately consider the use of these devices by companies to harass drivers. The potential harassment, as defined by the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA), which challenged the validity of the rule, includes drivers being pressured to drive when tired or in unsafe conditions in order to utilize their maximum allowable HOS.
The FMCSA is currently reviewing the decision. Whatever happens, the debate over EOBRs, and HOS regulations more broadly, will likely continue for years to come. Steve Viscelli, post-doctoral fellow at the COWS and expert on the trucking industry, claims that while EOBRs would likely be used by some carriers to harass drivers, the problem they are designed to correct is far more rampant than even the FMCSA acknowledges and has dramatic implications.
According to Viscelli, the average long-haul trucker routinely violates HOS regulations, largely as a result of being paid on a per-mile basis and being forced to spend unpaid time doing required non-driving tasks, such as waiting at pickup and delivery locations or filling out paperwork. Instituting a truly ironclad system of HOS enforcement would significantly increase shipping costs, an unwelcome development for many industry stakeholders and one that they are determined to avoid.