Government agency proposes ‘electronic logs’ for trucks and buses to prevent accidents

BY Joan Lowy, Associated Press  March 13, 2014 at 2:48 PM EST
Photo by Washington State Department of Transportation/Flickr

On typical weekday, approximately 6,500 to 7,000 trucks travel over I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass in Washington State. Now electronic devices could track how long this trucks are on the road, in order to prevent accidents by tired drivers. Photo by Washington State Department of Transportation/Flickr

WASHINGTON — Commercial trucks and buses that cross state lines would have to be equipped with electronic devices that record how many hours the vehicles are in operation, according to a government proposal Thursday aimed at preventing accidents by tired drivers.

Accident investigators often cite crashes where truck and bus drivers exceeded limits on work hours. In some cases, drivers or their employers altered paper logbooks or kept two sets of books, concealing their driving practices from inspectors.

The electronic devices would make it harder for drivers to misrepresent their hours and would help reduce crashes by tired drivers, saving 20 lives and preventing 434 injuries each year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said in the new plan.

“Today’s proposal will improve safety while helping businesses by cutting unnecessary paperwork,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

Safety advocates long have campaigned to get the government to require the devices. They succeeded two years ago in persuading Congress to direct the Obama administration to issue regulations. Thursday’s proposal is a step toward fulfilling that directive.

But it takes at months, and often years, before proposed regulations are made final.

Most large trucking companies already use such devices, said Jackie Gillen, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. The devices are required in Europe, as well nearly a dozen other countries.

But they have been opposed by small trucking companies and drivers who own their rigs, she said. Drivers call paper logbooks “comic books” because they’re so easy to fake, she said.

“This is really going to cut down on the cheating and make it safer,” Gillen said. “Right now, drivers are under tremendous pressure with `just in time delivery’ and unreasonable demands by shippers to get loads to their destinations that they are forced to cheat and drive as far and as fast as they can.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.