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So Much for Paperless

Commentary by Deborah Lockridge, Editor in Chief

I’m constantly amazed and impressed by the pace of trucking technology. In just the past few weeks, I have seen Paccar earn the No. 1 ranking in InformationWeek’s 2011 Top 500 for its in-dash SmartNav and NavPlus navigation/infotainment units and its new TruckerLink telematics application. I’ve heard how enthusiastic the human resources VP at Big G Express in Shelbyville, Tenn., is about a new TMW automated system that will lead to a totally paperless recruiting, verification and personnel file process. I’ve read an announcement of a new smartphone app that lets owner-operators scan and upload receipts from the cab and automatically add them to monthly PL statements.

But apparently the trucking law enforcement community isn’t quite so 21st-century.
A few months ago, I wrote an editorial on electronic logs asking whether Buck Rogers, the fictional space hero, would use paper logs. Isn’t it time, I asked, to move into the 21st century and go paperless?

Well, not so fast on that “paperless” concept. As Washington Editor Oliver Patton reports, the enforcement community isn’t quite ready to let go of paper. When it comes to the question of how an enforcement official checks a driver’s electronic logs, they want the device to be able to print out a copy – or failing that, for a driver to sit there and copy the electronic logs into an old-fashioned paper logbook.

Seems to me that’s moving in the wrong direction. Kind of like writing a note on stationery, putting a stamp on it and sending it through the U.S. Postal Service in response to an e-mail.
Here’s what really chaps my behind: As Ollie reports, “Law enforcement budgets being tight, police do not want to have to buy a printer that the driver could plug into the EOBR to print out a copy of the log.”

What, and trucking budgets aren’t tight? Coming out of the worst recession in our lifetimes with aging equipment that needs to be replaced (with ever-more-expensive emissions-compliant new vehicles), paying $4 a gallon for diesel, soaring tire prices, the need to pay more to attract drivers who can help companies meet ever-more-stringent safety standards … I mean, gee, the trucking industry just has money coming out the wazoo, right?

So on top of requiring trucking companies to buy electronic logging devices in the first place, law enforcement wants the government to require they buy in-cab printers for them, as well.
Oh, or the driver can spend how much of his unpaid-for time copying seven days’ worth of logs. Under the watchful eye of a law enforcement official. Gee, that kind of pressure couldn’t lead to any mistakes, could it?

I’m no technology expert, but I just find it really hard to believe that in an industry where smartphone apps can do everything from pinpointing location and avoiding construction delays to uploading receipts and capturing proof of delivery signatures, in an industry where the truck can send information back to the home office on everything from how fast the truck is going to how many times the driver hit the brakes to engine fault codes, that there’s no good fix for enforcement officials to check electronic driver logs that doesn’t resort to paper except as a backup.

And the question of law enforcement access to electronic logs is just one of 16 electronic onboard recorder issues that an FMCSA advisory panel is thrashing through in its effort to deliver recommendations to the safety agency by the end of the year.

Of course, the EOBR rules are back on the drawing board again, anyway. In late August, a federal appeals court threw out the rule that would have required EOBRs for habitual HOS violators starting next summer.

I still think electronic logs are the wave of the future. But at this point, from a regulatory standpoint at least, it doesn’t look like they’re quite ready for prime time.

Sorry, Buck.

From the October 2011 issue of HDT

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