The use of electronic on-board recording devices (EOBRs), also known as "black boxes" in commercial trucks has been a long-standing safety issue. Safety advocates believe that such devices will promote safety and deter drivers from violating hours-of-service (HOS) rules. However, the trucking industry maintains that they will simply be another way to harass drivers for benign rule violations and slow down operations in a very competitive industry.
Despite the controversy, commercial trucks will now be required to carry EOBRs to record a truck’s course and its time on the road. This latest requirement comes as part of MAP-21, a collection of new transportation rules and authorizations geared toward making highways safer.
EOBRs provide several benefits. First and foremost, they allow drivers to spend more time on the road, despite stricter hours of service (HOS) requirements. A number of drivers who have switched to electronic recording (from paper logs) indicate that they can record up to 10 hours more time each week because it take so much less time to log their time. Some carriers report that EOBRs eliminate nearly 600 hours of administrative time (in verifying and logging reports) each year. Further, automated logs help drivers produce clear, error free reports and driving records. Stories abound regarding driving audits where critical information is no longer available or kept in shoddy conditions. This can be easily avoided with electronic recording.
Drivers also have an easier time during roadside inspections. The recorder allows patrol officers to quickly see how much time a driver has had behind the wheel on a particular day, which minimizes time off the road and ultimately leads to more drive time.
Also, as a driver’s road time expires, some EOBRs can give audible alerts so that a driver can find a safe place to pull over and rest as needed.
Most importantly, EOBRs can accurately capture driver and vehicle behavior immediately before, during and after an accident. This provides carriers, investigators and law enforcement with a reliable means of reconstructing accidents to assess whether crashes were caused by other drivers. Not only could this reduce a driver’s personal liability (as well as the carrier’s), it could help researchers in determining whether additional changes are necessary to prevent future accidents.
While there is still some resistance to incorporating EOBRs, usage is up compared to years past. Nearly 500,000 truckers use on-board recorders today, compared to 200,000 in 2009. Essentially, more drivers are satisfied when they switched to using electronic recorders. With driver satisfaction (and safety) increasing, chances are that fewer trucking accidents will occur.