By now, most people are familiar with data recorders or “black boxes” found on airplanes and in the majority of automobiles on the road today. These “black boxes” are commonly known as electronic data recorders (EDRs) or electronic on-board recording devices (EOBR). The purpose of these recording devices is to record and keep safe all data in case of a crash. This allows safety engineers and company management to review the events leading up to a wreck and utilize the data for future safety decisions. In automobiles, these “black boxes” record a variety of events surrounding an automobile accident, such as vehicle speed before the crash, deceleration rates, and vehicle trajectory before, during and after the crash, and seatbelt use. The “black boxes” now play a critical and significant role in determining the cause of an accident.
“Black boxes” are also found in the 18-wheelers that are on our roads and interstate systems. Over the years, the technology found in “black boxes” has greatly improved. And it is the advancement in technology, the ability to record much more and different types of data, that has stirred up a controversy within the heavy truck industry. Recently, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration – a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation – called for “black boxes” with the capability to monitor the hours of service of a trucker to be installed in all heavy trucks. The proposal would mandate the recorders as a way to ensure that truckers do not exceed the federal hours-of-service rules. There are numerous federal regulations that govern hours of service for truckers. The following are just a few of them:
• A driver carrying property cannot drive more than 11 hours following ten consecutive hours off-duty.
• A driver cannot operate a commercial vehicle for any period after having been on duty 14 hours following ten consecutive hours off-duty.
• A driver carrying passengers cannot drive more than 10 hours following eight consecutive hours off-duty or operate a commercial vehicle for any period after having been on duty 15 hours following eight consecutive hours off-duty.
49 C.F.R. § 395.3(a) and § 395.5(a).
Many commercial truckers still keep track of their hours through a paper log book. These paper log books can be easily altered or changed and there is very little oversight to ensure the paper log books are accurate. USA Today ran an interesting article in its June 11, 2012, edition which discussed how the new “black box” proposal has divided the trucking industry. The American Trucking Association, the nation’s largest trade association for the trucking industry, has supported mandating the recorders; whereas, the 150,000 member Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association, has opposed the legislation. The USA Today article explained the controversy within the industry:
The 150,000-member Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association, based in Grain Valley, Mo., opposes the measure, arguing that the devices will invade drivers’ privacy, won’t increase accuracy of record-keeping and will heap an unnecessary expense on thousands of small-business owners who drive trucks.
“The big fleets … contend that a recorder is more reliable,” says Todd Spencer, OOIDA’s executive vice president. “But it’s not. All it can tell is whether a vehicle is moving or not. It can’t tell whether or not that driver is on duty or off duty. … The reason the big (trucking firms) want real-time tracking of trucks is that for them it’s a productivity device. They want to make sure trucks and drivers are moving every single minute … regardless of whether a driver is too tired or too fatigued.”
The American Trucking Associations (ATA), the nation’s largest trade association for the trucking industry, supports mandating the recorders. “We all can make mistakes,” says Sean McNally, spokesman for Arlington, Va.-based ATA, which represents 37,000 motor carrier and other members that employ hundreds of thousands.
“There are people who are driving illegally because of these paper logs,” McNally says. “Our fleet members who are using (recorders) tell us it cuts down on hours-of-service violations, makes it less burdensome to do paperwork, that they have fewer violations and comply with (federal) rules more effectively.”
On Monday, auto club AAA and the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, a non-profit group composed of local, state and federal trucking safety officials and industry representatives, joined ATA in urging Congress to support the electronic onboard recorder mandate.
Tilden Curl, 53, of Olympia, Wash., who drives about 110,000 miles a year, opposes the recorders. “I think they’re not going to do what they’re purported to do,” he says. “They’re not going to make us safer.”
Curl says he worries that companies that hire drivers will be able to manipulate the recorders to force drivers to work longer hours and to “micromanage” drivers. “I see absolutely no benefit to it,” he says.
From the perspective of a victim of a trucking accident, there are positive benefits to mandating these electronic recording devices in heavy trucks. For a commercial truck that has a “black box” in it, the system may have the capability of recording data concerning the vehicles’ operation including speed, braking, use of the clutch and use of cruise control. This type of information is vital in reconstructing how an accident happened because the information basically provides a snapshot of what was happening with the heavy truck at the moment of the crash event. If the new proposed regulations pass, the electronic recorders will have the capability of recording a driver’s hours of service, a truck’s total driving time, total driving distance, trip driving time, trip distance, average driving speed, and maximum recorded speed. This information can then be compared to the driver’s log book to determine if the truck driver falsified his log book and was driving more than the federal government allows.
Research has shown that driver fatigue contributes significantly to the number of commercial vehicle accidents that result in injury and death. Driving fatigue has been labeled as the number one cause of trucking accidents. Dan Osterberg, senior vice president of safety and security at Schneider National, a Green Bay, Wis.-based international transportation and logistics company, says the firm saw a “significant” reduction in crashes after it required on-board recorders for its 13,000-truck fleet in 2010. He stated:
We actually did an internal study several years ago of a four-year period of crashes involving our trucks,” he says. “We found that fatigue was the No. 1 cause of crashes at that time. Since we started in 2010, we’ve seen a significant reduction in fatigue-related crashes, in fatality crashes and in injury crashes.
As stated earlier, accessing the data found in these electronic data recorders is extremely helpful in determining the cause of an accident. However, a lot of the event recorders only record data for a period of 30 days or less and usually when these recorders reach its capacity, the data will be recorded over with new logs. That means if one waits too long to access the data, the valuable information on how the wreck may have happened could be lost. Thus, if one has been injured in an accident with an 18-wheeler, it is very important to immediately place the motor carrier on notice to print out any of the data regarding the electronic recording device before it is destroyed and have that data reviewed for evidence of driver distraction, hours of service violation, and speeding.
If you need additional information or have questions about any of the above, contact Dana Taunton, a lawyer in our Personal Injury/Products Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Dana.Taunton@beasleyallen.com.
Source: USA Today
Contact us today for a free legal consultation with an experienced attorney.
Fields marked *may be required for submission.
If you would like to subscribe to the Jere Beasley Report digital edition, simply visit our Subscriptions page and provide the necessary information or call us at 800-898-2034.
Attorney Advertising - Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.