Imposing Regulations Push Fleet Owners To New Tech

The nation depends on the trucking industry for everything from fresh food and staples to cell phone batteries and the family car. New federal regulations surrounding hours of service records for drivers are expected to impact the cost of operating at least 4 million fleet vehicles—vehicles that move stuff from Point A to Point B, enabling US citizens to get on with the business of living. Legislative measures that would have required electronic on board records (EOBR) were recently revised, but the industry is still debating the benefits and hindrances EOBR devices cause for small and large operators.

The Debate

It’s likely that every fleet operator would agree federal regulations add financial burdens to the industry. There’s not a general consensus regarding the necessity to install EOBR technology in every fleet vehicle. The American Trucking Association supports legislation to require on board record keeping. In an interview with The Trucker, ATA Bill Graves says he expects the Department of Transportation to move forward with actions that require electronic logs to improve safety on the highways.

Opponents for instituting mandates and regulations that would require every fleet vehicle with an electronic log, like the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association disagree. They see the measures are just one more expensive fix that will ultimately push small business owners out of operation. It is true that initial conversion could be expensive for fleet managers, but it often saves money in the long run.

When the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association drafted the 2011 rulemaking proposal, they used prices for Qualcomm’s Mobile Computing Platform (MCP) 150. At the time, this was the only manufacturer that could meet the high volume demand. The lawmakers drafting the proposal also considered some companies would opt to purchase more management tools. Over the past two years, technology has stepped up to meet the needs of smaller budgets and expanded to provide even more cost cutting features for trucking enterprises.

The Costs

Comparatively speaking, whether you are operating a small fleet or maintain 5,000 service vehicles, the initial installation and training could be expensive. Modestly priced units that work with smartphone technology are available now for limited operations that cost a few hundred dollars. Units with a few fleet management features are available from manufacturers for under $1,000, including installation. Monthly service fees could run from $25 up to $60 (approximately) depending on the equipment and service features selected.

The Savings

Monitoring driver hours and location can produce enormous savings for trucking enterprises. Electronic records produce accurate data for managers to use as training tools, scheduling aids and to implement cost containment measures. Comparing miles traveled with fuel consumption and hours logged quickly uncovers violations to HOS requirements. Considering that a single HOS violation could translate into a fine of more than $10,000 for the company, maintaining accurate records could save companies thousands each year by increasing compliance.

On board recording will also allow fleet managers to review individual driver logs with a more critical eye for detail. Comparing the fuel consumption and miles traveled between drivers and trucks can expose poor driving patters, speeding, vehicle maintenance issues and other areas that—if addressed and correctly—would naturally lead to lower operating costs.

Fleet managers often think they don’t have a compliance problem and the equipment seems unnecessary. Results from a 2006 Ol’ Blue, USA™ survey revealed some interest and relevant information for company owners. The survey results were gathered from a group of 1,094 truck drivers, 65 percent of which were company drivers. This study revealed that many drivers admit they’re not fully aware of HOS compliance laws or how to get accurate information. Remarkably, 77 percent of the drivers polled said they had intentionally violated HOS rules. Even more astounding is that a plurality, 55 percent, continued to violate regulations.

Identifying drivers that need additional training, as well as addressing flagrant abuse and intentional violators, has the potential to increase profits and save lives. Additionally, many insurance companies are encouraging EOBR and rewarding companies that install the equipment with lower premiums and higher annual rebates against prepayments.

The take-away

No one likes to be told what to do and when to do it. Even if the full mandate never passes Congress to make EOBR an industry requirement, fleet operators should take time to explore the cost saving benefits of electronic on board recording and the advanced fleet management systems that support them.