Commercial trucks and buses that cross state lines would have to be equipped with electronic devices that record how many hours the vehicles are in operation, according to a government proposal Thursday aimed at preventing accidents by tired drivers.
Accident investigators often cite crashes where truck and bus drivers exceeded limits on work hours. In some cases, drivers or their employers altered paper logbooks or kept two sets of books, concealing their driving practices from inspectors.
The electronic devices would make it harder for drivers to misrepresent their hours and would help reduce crashes by tired drivers, saving 20 lives and preventing 434 injuries each year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said in the new plan.
"Today's proposal will improve safety while helping businesses by cutting unnecessary paperwork," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.
Safety advocates long have campaigned to get the government to require the devices. They succeeded two years ago in persuading Congress to direct the Obama administration to issue regulations. Thursday's proposal is a step toward fulfilling that directive.
But it takes at months, and often years, before proposed regulations are made final.
Most large trucking companies already use such devices, said Jackie Gillen, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. The devices are required in Europe, as well nearly a dozen other countries.
But they have been opposed by small trucking companies and drivers who own their rigs, she said. Drivers call paper logbooks "comic books" because they're so easy to fake, she said.
"This is really going to cut down on the cheating and make it safer," Gillen said of the electronic devices. "Right now, drivers are under tremendous pressure with 'just in time delivery' and unreasonable demands by shippers to get loads to their destinations that they are forced to cheat and drive as far and as fast as they can."
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said it was reviewing the proposal.
Electronic recorders "are used to harass and coerce truck drivers into continuing to drive regardless of driving conditions, such as bad weather, congested traffic or simply if the driver is too tired to drive," the association's vice president, Todd Spencer, said in a statement. "Plus, there is no known device that is capable of automatically recording a driver's duty status throughout a work day, not just when they are driving, and this is also a requirement from Congress. "
But the American Trucking Association welcomed the proposal "as a way to improve safety and compliance in the trucking industry and to level the playing field" for trucking fleets that have "already voluntarily moved to this technology," said ATA President and CEO Bill Graves.