Electronic logs can help trucking companies become both safe and profitable

Interstate motor carriers and their drivers are required to make and maintain logs showing the driver’s hours of operation, activities and locations of stops. The potential for abuse is so legendary that paper logs are often referred to as "comic books." 

Many truck drivers have told me, off the record, of the impossible pressure on them from carriers and shippers to make legally impossible delivery schedules. In one recent case, a truck driver confessed to me in his deposition that he had destroyed log pages for several previous days and replaced them with pages showing he was "off duty" and falsified the log for the trip he was on, so that he would look legal if stopped. In fact, he had been driving for 20 of the previous 24 hours — double the legal limit at the time — when he ran over a family and killed one of the children.

As reported by Robert L. Mitchell in ComputerWorld, electronic driver logs, also known as electronic on-board recorders (EOBR), do away with paper logbooks. The devices typically include a screen and a keyboard where the driver can input activity. That data is matched to a GPS device and vehicle sensors that continuously monitor the vehicle’s location and operation and can transmit that data back to the carrier’s operations center.  It’s impossible to fudge the numbers. A driver can’t claim he’s resting when the truck is moving.

But carriers make money by delivering the maximum number of loads in the minimum time. Enforcing hours-of-service rules more tightly could reduce per-truck revenues — and profitability — if drivers are breaking the rules. Some drivers complain that with the current per-mile compensation levels, they can’t make a living without bending the rules. Adopting EOBRs not only might reduce revenue per truck, but also could require an increase in driver compensation.

But when a carrier adopts electronic driver logs and other safety- and performance-related technologies it may use technology to competitive advantage to reduce costs and improve profitability. A carrier is able to more efficiently schedule its fleet when it can better track the number of hours its drivers are available.

Requiring EOBRs would force carriers to move forward in lock step, achieving safety goals without putting any carrier at a competitive disadvantage. Despite industry resistance, that is the direction the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration should be heading.

But if EOBRs are required, they should be tamper proof.  There is much history of falsified driver logs, and deactivation of other electronic recording devices, and GPS system downloads in formats subject to manipulation. In order for the EOBR data to be trustworthy, the systems must be tamper proof.

The Shigley Law Firm  represents plaintiffs in wrongful death and catastrophic injury cases statewide in Georgia, and in other states subject to the multijurisdictional practice and pro hac vice rules in each state. Ken Shigley was designated as a "SuperLawyer" in Atlanta Magazine and one of the "Legal Elite" in Georgia Trend Magazine. He is a Certified Civil Trial Advocate of the National Board of Trial Advocacy, Chair of the Southeastern Motor Carrier Liability Institute and former chair of the Georgia Insurance Law Institute. He particularly focuses on cases arising from truck  and bus accidentsClick here for a free consultation with no obligation.