Quick: What’s the leading cause of trucking accidents? If you were to ask that question to the non-trucking public, they’d probably tell you that trucker fatigue was the culprit. They’d be wrong.
It’s not their fault. The media, our lawmakers, and many interest groups are cramming that idea into their ears with one of those cannonball-stuffing doo-hickies. I’m not going to go into all the statistics on this because, well, that’s just not my bag, baby. Still, I’m not asking you to take one loud-mouthed trucker’s opinion on this either. I let OOIDA (Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association) do the dirty work. Check it out for yourself.
So what is the leading cause of truck accidents? Well, actually the leading cause is 4-wheelers. In some studies it’s estimated as many as 71% of accidents involving a truck and a passenger vehicle are caused by the 4-wheeler’s actions; not the truck’s. Putting that fact aside, the accidents caused by a truck driver are usually caused by driver error, not driver fatigue.
Speeding, taking a turn too fast, improper lane changes, tailgating, and driving too fast for conditions are just a few things that cause truck accidents. Most of these kinds of accidents are the result of being in a hurry. Even when time isn’t an issue, accidents are more likely to be caused by pure carelessness, not driver fatigue.
Any honest trucker will back me up on this. Not counting time issues, the majority of close calls are caused by the stupidity of other drivers, reaching for your iPod, reading your map, eating, spilling your coffee, daydreaming about your lottery winnings, or being lost due to bad directions (see Truckers get lost about that whole ball of frustration). The vast majority of truck drivers have the common sense to get off the road before we get too tired. Despite this well-known fact, the people and industries that know what’s best for everyone else has decided that EOBRs are necessary to prevent these infrequent fatigue-related accidents.
Now I’m sure all my trucking friends have already heard of EOBRs. The acronym stands for Electronic On-Board Recorders. Basically, it’s a tell-all device for truckers. It’s what the “black box” is to the airline industry. If you haven’t heard of them yet, you likely will soon enough. There is a major push by industry groups and lawmakers to make EOBRs mandatory in all commercial vehicles. While I do think EOBRs have their merits, I also believe them to be as important to preventing accidents as the Easter Bunny is to delivering presents on Christmas Eve.
So what are the good points about EOBRs? Well, for one thing, they can detect sudden lane changes, hard braking, excessive speed, etc. That kind of information could come in handy when truckers are trying to prove themselves innocent of an accident. On the flip side, it could also be a prosecuting attorney’s ace-in-the-hole if you’re as guilty as a drunk Alcoholic Anonymous member. Secondly, I believe EOBRs would succeed in keeping those rare renegade drivers in check. It would be kind of hard to run two log books and drive until your eyes are drooping like that weird, old lady underarm flab with an EOBR installed. So that’s a good thing.
There are a couple of things that EOBR haters are worried about. First, is the whole “invasion of privacy” issue. Sure, the box would show your company where you live when you go home, but who cares? They already know your address. And yes, it shows where you’re currently located. Well, maybe if you don’t want someone to know that you’re at the nudie bar, you shouldn’t be there in the first place. While I suppose that it could be the foot-in-the-door to something more sinister, I’m just not that paranoid. And if you’re driving like a crazy person, I don’t mind the little box tattling on you.
Another complaint is the cost. Now I’ve never priced one of these puppies, but I’ve read that some of these units can cost as little as $300-$400 to install. That’s just a couple of weeks of G-string fodder for some of these guys. And if you’re a company driver, you’ve got no call to complain about the cost at all. The company will be paying for it.
The thing is, most company trucks already have some sort of EOBR in them. Our current satellite systems already show how fast we are going and our location at any given time, therefore many of us company drivers are already dealing with them. And what do you think electronic log books are? They’re just glorified EOBR boxes.
I know what some of you regular readers are thinking. “But you said you had fear and loathing of electronic logs.” I did, and still do to some extent. I don’t know exactly how they work, so that’s part of the mystery. But here’s why I’m dreading the day that I get e-logs. Time management.
The difference between our current satellite system, or even a black box that is mounted under the driver’s seat is; no one is monitoring your satellite system unless something warrants an inquiry. But e-logs are monitored real-time. If that thing is beeping at you, your dispatcher is seeing it too. This presents a problem.
Admittedly, the way the vast majority of truckers do their log books is technically illegal. Still, most truckers don’t run two logs books and backlog trips either. We simply fudge a few things here or there to suit the situation. For example, let’s say I’m going into the shipper the night before my morning appointment, therefore, I’m not in any particular rush. If I hit a traffic jam just before I run out of hours, no big deal. As long as I don’t have a DOT weigh station to deal with, I can just take my time getting to the shipper, get there 15 or 30 minutes later than “technically” legal, and show getting there when I had originally planned. Illegal? Yes. Driving 5 mph over the speed limit is too. Good thing none of us do that.
The biggest problem I see with e-logs is that there will no longer be any wiggle room. Now if I’m almost out of hours when I hit that traffic jam, what happens? Well, I get tagged by my company for driving over my hours. Either that, or traffic breaks free and I put the hammer down to bust my hump to the shipper (or any other safe parking space) before the stinkin’ e-log machine starts beeping at me.
So I ask you; what’s safer? Calmly driving 15-30 minutes over my allotted time, or driving like a Formula 1 driver injected with squirrel DNA to keep from going over my time limit? I imagine that it’s going to feel like an episode of “24” every time I get behind the wheel. Is a trucker driving an 80,000-pound weapon someone you want racing against the clock every day?
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