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EOBR listening session: Fed panel gets an earful on harassment
By Sandi Soendker, Land Line editor-in-chief
A court action last year by OOIDA forced the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to vacate its initial rulemaking on electronic onboard recorders because it failed to deal with the harassment issue. The agency, which is currently pressing forward with a full mandate, hosted an EOBR listening session Thursday, April 26, in Bellevue, WA. The harassment issue was front and center.
The fed panel included top brass from FMCSA, including the Jack Van Steenburg, assistant administrator and chief safety officer; Larry Minor, associate administrator for policy; William Varga, attorney-advisor with the Regulatory Affairs Division; Deborah Freund, transportation specialist with the Vehicle and Roadside Operations Division; and Stephen Parker, transportation specialist with Enforcement and Compliance.
At this session – the second one scheduled this spring specifically for EOBR input – FMCSA sought info from the industry on factors and data it should consider as the agency addresses the distinction between productivity and harassment. A number of speakers representing large motor carriers were present. And despite the lack of truck parking anywhere near the hotel, truck drivers were also well represented.
“You cannot enhance safety statistics until you address the root of the problem in this industry,” independent trucker Tilden Curl told regulators. Curl, an OOIDA member from Olympia and the 2010 Goodyear Highway Hero, told the panel that “we as an industry are suffering from regulatory fatigue. It’s penalty driven, rather than reward driven.”
Curl said drivers he has talked to, mostly using a Qualcomm system, have complained about not having enough hours to complete a task. “Then those hours magically appeared on their log,” he told the panel.
A representative from Schneider National said EOBRs would act as a “pressure release valve” for drivers, and that responsible carriers respect when a driver is out of hours.
Don Lacey, safety director for Prime Inc., said Prime had not got one complaint about EOBRs from their drivers. Jerry Johnson, a representative from PAM Transportation, said most of his drivers loved the EOBR. He said the EOBR was an outstanding management tool. Speaker Guy Welton of Werner Enterprises said, “Machines don’t cause harassment; people do.”
FMCSA’s Van Steenburg told attendees that the session was “really informative.”
“We are getting great, great comments,” he said at the halfway point. “I’m learning a lot.”
OOIDA’s Director of Regulatory Affairs Joe Rajkovacz gave an example of harassment, reading straight from a Qualcomm dialog between a driver and motor carrier. After the driver was dispatched, there appeared to be constant calls, even when the driver was sleeping, checking on him and reminding him how important the load was and stressing it could “not be late.” When the driver didn’t respond to Qualcomm (he was in sleeper berth), the company went to phone calls.
OOIDA Senior Member George Cherveny is leased to Landstar. He and his wife, Mary Knotts – a former safety manager with FedEx National – made the trip to Bellevue Thursday to make comments in person and have his views entered into the official record. Cherveny, who now resides in Olympia, WA, covered a lot of ground with his well-prepared remarks on hours-of-service enforcement, especially detention on the docks.
After the session, Cherveny told Land Line that it was not his first trip to a listening session. He used to live in Kansas City, MO, and had joined OOIDA’s regulatory staff for a meeting there years ago.
“I was home in Olympia, just did a load from Texas to Washington, and I heard on ‘Land Line Now’ that it was happening, so I wanted to do it. It was an opportunity. And I wanted to say something to FMCSA about what is happening with the new rules in Australia and urge them to look at this.”
Under a new set of road safety rules in Australia, truck drivers will be paid reasonably for their work, including time spent at the loading docks. The goal of the new law is to reform the system that allows shippers and others in the supply chain to harass drivers into breaking speed and fatigue laws to meet deadlines.
FMCSA’s Van Steenberg said Administrator Ferro is committed to looking at driver detention time and compensation and “to see what effects that has on fatigue and driver safety.”
Van Steenberg commended the motor coach community for having representatives present in Bellevue on Thursday. In her comments to the panel, Gladys Gillis, Starline Luxury Coach, said it was hard to justify the cost of the technology and the connectivity of the EOBR system. Gillis is a member of the Motor Coach Council.
Another member of the council, Vern Britton, addressed the cost issue. Britton said he is a former trucker and now works in management for a small motor coach service. He has eight drivers, checks all the logs daily, and it’s time-consuming. He supports EOBRs, but his concern is cost. He said his company is looking at $12,000 to equip and $400 to maintain the system. As a profitability factor, it would take a couple of years to pay for itself. For that reason, he thinks EOBRs should be optional, but not mandatory.
Some of the speakers had unique situations that prompted a “how would I comply” type question. Julius De Buschewitz, manager of National Safety Code, Yukon, had questions on areas where there were no fax machines, no easy way of communicating. He wanted to know how law enforcement would get info in remote areas. Tim Shaw, Safety Admin for Timmerman Starlight Trucking, said a vast majority of his drivers drive intrastate and only two drive interstate. Shaw wanted to know if all drivers then had to have EOBRs. Fredrick Vincent, Redbone Express, emailed that two of his trucks are completely mechanical and cannot run on EOBRs.
FMCSA panelists intermittently read email the agency received from drivers who could not attend but wanted to comment on what types of harassment already exists, how frequently it happens, and how an EOBR will guard – or fail to guard – against harassment.
An anonymous email stated: “Truck drivers are not robots. Electronic logs remove a lot of trust between truckers and the DOT. We know how to fill out a log. Please leave the truck driving to the drivers. If the computer messes up, what backup do we have?”
John Bruc emailed that “sure, I can turn my phone off to keep from being harassed” but he did not want to do that in order to make himself available to his family.
An email from Shannon Moss was read. He reported that he was one driver who had experienced being harassed by an EOBR. Moss gave examples that he said were ongoing, sometimes several times daily. One example was having three hours left and being told by the carrier that because three hours were available, he was dispatched to make a pickup 150 miles away, not accounting for any delays at the dock, human needs, etc.
Truckers can also file written comments on the issue in various ways. Those include:
* By fax to 1-202-493-2251;
* By mail to
Docket Management Facility
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave. SE
West Building Ground Floor, Room W12-140,
Washington, DC 20590-0001;
* By hand delivery to the same address; and
* Online via www.regulations.gov.
Don’t forget the docket number, which is FMCSA-2010-0167. Background documents can be found here.
The comments related to EOBRs and the listening session are being collected in a docket that originally received comments on the agency’s notice of proposed rulemaking on a full EOBR mandate. While that comment period is closed, the docket is active and accepting comments related to harassment as sought at the listening sessions.
Land Line Magazine Associate Editor David Tanner contributed to this report.
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