US owner-drivers defeat push for electronic truck trackers

US truck drivers and owner-operator association band together to defeat government attempt to impose electronic truck trackers

By Brad Gardner |September 21, 2011

A government push to impose electronic truck trackers in the US from next year has hit a wall after a court stepped in and ruled the scheme could not go ahead.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) has won its battle with the federal road safety department, which planned to mandate monitoring devices in June next year for companies caught breaking driving hour regulations.

The United States Court of Appeals sided with OOIDA in ruling that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) failed to ensure the devices would not be used to harass trucking operators – a key requirement passed by Congress.

Circuit Judge Diane Wood says FMCSA did not show how it would prevent harassment from happening and that its failure to do so renders the on-board tracking regulation "arbitrary and capricious".

"The Agency needs to consider what types of harassment already exist, how frequently and to what extent harassment happens, and how an electronic device capable of contemporaneous transmission of information to a motor carrier will guard against (or fail to guard against) harassment," Wood writes in her judgement.

"Specifically, the Agency said nothing about the requirement that any regulation about the use of monitoring devices in commercial vehicles must "ensure that the devices are not used to harass vehicle operators."

Under the FMCSA scheme, devices would be linked to a truck’s engine and a driver’s telephone to provide running updates on a vehicle’s location and distance using the cellular network or satellite. Companies would be forced to fit the devices for two years if a review uncovered a non-compliance rate greater than 10 percent on driving hour regulations.

The department, similar to comments made here, claims the current paper-based reporting system is open to manipulation and falsification.

However, the OOIDA argues companies use technology’s ability to send data in real time to pressure drivers to work harder, including when they are tired.

"Companies can and do use technology to harass drivers by interrupting rest periods," OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer says.

"They can contact the driver and put on pressure to get back on the road to get the most of his or her on-duty time, regardless of how fatigued a driver may be."

Wood ruled that the FMCSA was required to address the association’s concerns.

The American Trucking Association supports the use of on-board recorders to monitor compliance with driving hour regulations and says it hopes the FMCSA works quickly to address the court ruling.

"FMCSA’s research shows that compliance with the current hours-of-service rules is strongly associated with reduced crash risk. Of course, electronic logging devices are an important tool for improving hours of service compliance," ATA President and CEO Bill Graves says.

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