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FMCSA finally releases proposal to require black boxes in all trucks

Written by Steve Gursten Posted March 28th, 2014

black box eld proposal

The wait is over. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently announced its proposal to require commercial truck and bus companies to use electronic logging devices (ELDs) in their trucks and buses.

ELDS are commonly referred to as black boxes (although lawyers who are sending written discovery such as interrogatories that do not specify ELDs and EODRs (electronic on-board data recorders) may not get this information if it is not specifically detailed in your interrogatory).

Very few proposals from the FMCSA have the power to do more to prevent truck accidents and take dangerous truckers who drive over hours or speed off the public roadways.

Black boxes and ELDs are essentially recorders that preserve data inputs from a vehicle’s sensors. This often includes the  5- to 10-seconds before a truck crash. After the crash,  the data can be downloaded and can help law enforcement and attorneys determine what caused the crash. Conditions that contribute to a serious crash, including speed, whether brakes were applied or not, steering and even seat belt use can also be detected.

I had written an earlier blog about the pending ELD proposal earlier this year. The FMCSA was required to make this rule pursuant to the MAP-21 Act.

The proposed ELD/black box rule will have huge benefits for commercial trucking companies, besides of course safety and preventing accidents.  The rule promises to substantially reduce the paperwork burdens and costs of log audits associated with hours-of-service record keeping for truck companies and bus drivers while simultaneously improving the accuracy of the hours of service data (and making current practices, such as truckers carrying two sets of log books, obsolete).

Carrying two sets of log books, which often include one set of “lie books” if a trucker or bus driver is stopped by law enforcement is rampant. As an attorney, I’ve seen this practice in many of my own cases. The proposed rule aims to reduce hours-of-service violations by making it more difficult for truckers and bus drivers to lie about their time in logbooks.

Truckers and bus drivers  have notoriously kept two sets of log books – one set that is HOS compliant to show inspectors, and one set that shows how often and how far they’re really driving so that they can be properly paid by their employer.

Remember, truckers are generally paid by the mile, so it’s advantageous to drive in excess of the hours of service. With the ELDs on board, that problem will be eliminated. Truckers cannot “cheat” the ELD as the device is directly connected to the truck itself and traces mileage and hours operated.

Analysis suggests that the new ELDs on semi-trucks will help reduce preventable truck crashes caused by tired and overworked truck drivers. Estimates suggest that 20 fatalities and 434 injuries would be prevented each year, according to the FMSCA.

The proposed regulation also includes provisions to:

  • Respect driver privacy by ensuring that ELD records continue to reside with the motor carriers and drivers. The electronic data will only be available to FMCSA personnel or law enforcement during roadside inspections, compliance reviews and in post-crash investigations.
  • Protect drivers from harassment through an explicit prohibition on harassment by a motor carrier owner toward a driver using information from an ELD. Further, the rule establishes a mechanism for filing a complaint against trucking companies that engage in harassment of a driver leading to an hours-of-service violation, or forcing a truck driver to go on the road when he or she is fatigued or ill. A successful complaint made pursuant to the rule carries a civil penalty of up to $11,000.
  • Allow truckers and bus drivers to have access to their own records and require ELDs to include a mute function to protect against disruptions during sleeper berth and rest periods.
  • Increase efficiency for law enforcement personnel and inspectors who review driver logbooks by making it more difficult for a driver to cheat when submitting their records of duty status and ensuring the electronic logs can be displayed and reviewed electronically, or printed, with potential violations flagged.


Impaired driving (which includes driving while fatigued), was listed as a factor in more than 12 percent of the 129,120 total crashes that involved large trucks or buses in 2012, according to the FMCSA.

Regular readers of this trucking law blog have learned about many of the truck crashes and bus accidents that myself and other attorneys have litigated, and know that driver fatigue is often a key factor. Dangerous truck drivers and the trucking companies that encourage, or even assist them, in violating hours of service rules are a danger to everybody.  When tired drivers go beyond the hours of service and create fake logbooks to conceal dangerous behavior, innocent people get killed.

This new  proposal promises to do much to stop this dangerous behavior.

About Steve Gursten

Attorney Steven Gursten is president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association and past president of the American Association for Justice Trucking Litigation Group. He has been named a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Leader in the Law" for his efforts to prevent truck accidents and promote national truck safety. Steve was also a Michigan Lawyers Weekly "Lawyer of the Year" for a record settlement in a truck accident case. He has received the top reported truck accident jury verdict and top reported truck accident settlement in Michigan for multiple years, according to published year-end compilations of all jury verdicts and personal injury settlements by Michigan Lawyers Weekly. He has been named a "Top 50 Super Lawyer," by SuperLawyers, is listed in Best Lawyers in America, and has been awarded an AV-rating by Martindale-Hubbell, which is the highest rating for legal ability and ethics. Steve speaks to lawyers throughout the country on truck accident litigation. He is a founding member of the Truck Accident Attorneys Roundtable, head of Michigan Auto Law, and has dedicated his legal career to making our roads safer.
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