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Truck accident issue: electronic recorders focus of court ruling

Overly fatigued commercial truck drivers are routinely involved in truck accidents that bring serious — and often fatal — consequences across the country, including Ohio.

The question: What to do about them? How can they best be tracked and regulated to minimize the too-often bad outcomes that result when they lose focus or fall asleep at the wheel?

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) has no doubt as to the answer, and its efforts to address the problem have been strongly endorsed by the American Trucking Associations. The FMCSA proposed a rule last year to replace problem truckers’ — those with poor safety records — paper logbooks with on-board electronic devices that would better track their driving times and rest periods. Critics of handwritten logs say they are often falsified.

That proposal was scheduled to take effect next year in June, but a federal appellate court has just thrown it out, saying that it failed to address a subject that the FMCSA was obligated to consider, but didn’t.

That subject is the potential for driver harassment, which the spokesperson for an association that represents more than 150,000 independent truck drivers says does happen.

Notwithstanding the court intervention, a consultant in the truck industry says that, “This is not going to stop anything.” The FMCSA issued a second proposal earlier this year that would require every commercial trucker in the country — regardless of his or her driving record — to soon install an on-board electronic recorder. The agency is expected to withdraw that proposal now, in light of the recent court ruling, and ensure that it goes through a vetting process that includes consideration of the harassment issue.

Most industry insiders think that the proposal will then be introduced and become law, since public opinion appears to strongly support it.

“The handwriting’s on the wall,” says one.

Related Resource: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “Appeals court tosses rule requiring electronic logs for truckers” Aug. 29, 2011