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EOBRs: The Unfunded Mandate

There’s nothing quite like working hard for your money, saving and getting to a secure place in your finances, or even if you have to declare yourself in bankruptcy you can get bankruptcy lawyers to help you with this. The reality is most Americans don’t ever reach this goal because each time an increase is gained, an unexpected hand reaches into their pocket. When the bigger fish takes a monetary bite out of a smaller fish, it hurts. Guess what? On December 10th, 2015 the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration did just that to owner-operators nationwide with the new electronic on-board recorder (EOBR) rule.  It’s called an unfunded mandate.

What’s an unfunded mandate? Unfunded mandates are when a higher level of government uses regulatory or legislative powers to force a lower body of government (or in this case private industry) to spend money on something they would not do electively.

This is quite common in the battle between state and local government. As the State of Illinois is being dragged into the abyss of insolvency hell, the legislature continually mandates local government to perform certain tasks. Buy this special equipment, establish this protocol, implement that policy, etc. However, in all its wisdom, the State of Illinois does not provide funding to local government for many of these directives.

Most recently this can be seen with the new bodycam program in Illinois. The truckers are footing the biggest portion of the bill for the initiative and there is no guarantee any local police departments are going to take advantage of it. Why?  Because it’s an unfunded mandate.

Oh sure, the body cams are “free”, but the State has an encyclopedia of rules which must be followed. One is data storage and retention. Get your cameras on the trucker’s arm, but spend tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars to store tens of thousands of hours of video. “No thanks” has been the general reply from most local law enforcement leaders, many of whom are not opposed to bodycams per se.

The list of unfunded mandates dumped on local governments from the state and federal governments is long. Unfortunately, private enterprise is not immune.

Let’s be perfectly clear: no one is promoting unsafe truck driving. One of the deadliest forms of trucking is the fatigued driver. Driver’s exceeding their hours-of-service is the number one reason drivers are placed out of service and a leading cause of highway fatalities. For decades, truckers and law enforcement have played a cat-and-mouse game with paper log books.

With EOBRs comes the faulty promise of technology thwarting the trucker who cheats on his hours. Computers are amazing tools, but require very specific, linear instruction. The creative trucker can manipulate even the most sophisticated EOBR. Please put the argument to rest that EOBRs are somehow going to hold truckers more accountable. The same truckers who cheat on their paper logs are going to find end-runs around EOBRs too. Wait, they already have.

Come December 11th, 2017 all interstate carriers operating trucks manufactured in the year 2000 or later will be required to use an EOBR to track their hours. Great for the mega-carriers of nation who can afford these devices and already are using them. Bad for the owner-operator who has to spend several thousand dollars to purchase and install this device in their tractor.

Are there advantages to EOBRs? For sure. Not everything is bad about them. There are probably some owner-operators out there who are successfully using them on their own accord just like the mega-carriers.

Please, call a spade a spade. Since the deregulation of trucking, large fleets have worked endlessly to push out the owner-operators because they cut in on their business. What better way to cripple them than by forcing an unfunded mandate down their throats?

Time will tell, but EOBRs may very well prove to be less safe than our federal government is predicting. It’s well documented that large carriers have routinely forced drivers to continue driving when the driver knows they should rest. In the eyes of management, if there are eleven hours in a driver’s day, better use them all for the company! EOBRs make that micro-management possible in real time. How is that making the highways safer? It’s not.

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