Big Brother to spy on 3 million truck drivers using electronic on-board recorders (EOBR)


When President Obama signed highway bill—MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act) —into law. it allowed our gov’t. to spy on every trucker in the U.S.

More than 3 million truckers in the United States, are facing a regulatory upheaval which will cost his industry an estimated $2 billion and fundamentally change the way they do their jobs. Over the next few years, it will become mandatory, for all American truckers to carry a tracking device, an electronic on-board recorder (EOBR), in their vehicle.  

Truckers are on the forefront of workplace surveillance. With the availability of cheap sensors and hypercompetitive companies seeking to maximize their profits, any human action done on the clock may become subject to increased scrutiny and what will probably be called optimization. If you want to see the future of work, take a look at IBM’s efforts around call center workers or the battle over electronic armbands at Tesco in Ireland. It’s not that data hasn’t always been used in corporate decisionmaking, it’s that it’s possible to capture so much more now. With more data, comes more control.

“They’re forcing me to put something in that’s not gonna help me any,”truck driver Dick Pingel says. “And they keep saying, ‘Well, it saves you time…’ You know, I can do a lot. I can write up a log book in the same amount of time that it takes me to program what I’m doing into the EOBR.”

He’s been testing one model in preparation for the mandate coming into force. For one thing, he says the graphical display, which gradually turns from green to red as he uses up his allowed time on the road, creates an unnecessary sense of urgency that makes the last hour of his run feel more stressful than it did before.

Pingel has specifically chosen his EOBR for its simplicity and low cost to try and minimize its impact on him. However, there are many competing devices on the market which can gather much more detailed information on speed, engine revving, hard-braking and fuel efficiency. (Soon authorities will know where every truck in the U.S. is.)

This data is often centrally monitored by carrier control rooms in real time. Qualcomm, perhaps the most established manufacturer of such systems, offers an exhaustive suite of analytical tools and services through their EOBR “platforms”. With the prospect of a mandate on the horizon, many other tech firms have seized on the opportunity to profit. Companies like XRS have designed smartphone apps to comply with federal regulations and provide “360-degree, real-time information at a truly affordable price.”

EOBRs are sometimes derided as “baby sitters” and there is some resentment towards the growing emphasis on data-informed hiring practices within the industry. Many are aware that a record which shows a trucker is slightly harder on fuel thanks to the way he revs, idles, and brakes could mean that he won’t get a job in an increasingly competitive market. The nominal rationale may be to increase safety, but as Pingel puts it, “it’s all turned into bottom line.”

Fears that trucking companies could misuse their expanded awareness of where their drivers are and what they are doing have already been expressed in court. In 2011, the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), of which Pingel is a long-term member, launched a lawsuit against the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the authority responsible for drafting the rule.

Companies, too, might have an incentive to surreptitiously add “extra” hours to a driver’s electronic log so they can complete a delivery without running out of time. Dick Pingel says he’s heard stories like this already from drivers he’s met on the job.

Nevertheless, the trucking industry is gradually falling into line with the idea of mandated electronic recorders. Many of the bigger carriers have made a vigorous effort to adapt early and absorb the cost of implementing EOBRs across their fleet as soon as possible. Thomas Scollard, Vice President of Dedicated Contract Carriage Services for Penske Logistics confirms that the devices have improved planning and saved on huge amounts of paperwork.

Truck driver Cliff Downing says people who complain about the EOBR mandate are simply expressing an innate but unhelpful resistance to change.“If I need a log for an officer alongside the road, it’s kind of like… how do ya want it? Do you want me to fax it to you? Here, I can show you on my smartphone! Oh hey, I can open up my Macbook Air, you can look at it on my laptop,” he explains. “You take your pick Mr Cop, I’ll show you any way you want.” (it’s never a good idea to give a police officer your cell phone)

Analyzing the challenges and benefits of EOBRs

Electronic on-board recorder adoption in the trucking industry: Issues and opportunities

Electronic On-Board Recorders (2010)


6 thoughts on “Big Brother to spy on 3 million truck drivers using electronic on-board recorders (EOBR)

  1. What this really does is take about 7,000 dollars in yearly revenues right out of the owner operators pocket.

    Bottom line is. If you want to be a long haul trucker

    Don’t get married
    Don’t have kids
    Don’t buy a car
    Don’t buy a house
    Plan on calling your truck your house
    Plan on driving at least 600 miles per day

    Then maybe if your lucky, you will be able to squeak out a living

    1. I think their ultimate goal is no O/Os. They want everyone to drive for a big corp.

      One giant CME is all we need and we can put this place back the way it is supposed to be.

  2. This type of system has been in the construction machines for about three years now. The operators hate it cause it will tell how long you spent at lunch or how long you let the machine idle in a nonproductive state. The system can even tell the owner if the operator has been using the machine improperly. I have seen operators get sent home because of what the computer has said about the operation of the machine. This is here to stay I’m afraid and it is only going to get worse. We have machines that will operate by themselves through GPS and the only reason an operator is in the machine is to takeover if something goes wrong.

    1. Damn, this brotherly love thing has ruined us hasn’t it? All of this automation has ruined our lives. When will they replace congressman with a robot? What the hell do we need a human president for?

  3. Think I’ll make a movie about this…call it “Brazil on Wheels”…

    “…All this trucker terrorism is due to one thing: Bad sportsmanship…”

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