Right now, Congress has a big transportation spending bill under debate, and part of that big bill is a proposed law that would require U.S. commercial trucks (big rigs, semis, tractor trailers, 18 wheelers) to have electronic data recorders – which you and I know as “black boxes” – attached to them, the same kind of black box that is now required to be part of all commercial aircraft.
The argument is that it is only with a black box that commercial truckers can be effectively monitored to insure that they keep to the current federal HOS (hours of service) rules. Those in favor of Big Rig Black Boxes (like the American Trucking Association) argue that right now, truckers just log their HOS on paper journals and that’s just offering too much temptation to fudge on their reports. (Read the letter of support by the president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety to the New York Times here.)
The OOIDA (Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association) does not agree. Its argument: all the black box can do is track whether or not the truck is moving. A truck driver can still be on duty even if those wheels aren’t turning, so it’s not going to give an accurate reading on service time.
Another argument against the proposed new federal law: black boxes will work to force truckers to bend to company pressure to keep driving when they need a break. The big trucking firms are interested in maximizing profit and that comes from having cargo moved as fast as possible. Black boxes will be a tool to push for those big rigs to be moving on the roads, not a tool to help tired and weary truck drivers out on the roads.
Additionally, individual truck drivers see the Black Box as an invasion of privacy, as explained by one trucker in a New Jersey TV interview (read it here). For many truckers, the idea that a machine will be installed on their trucks because the Powers that Be don’t trust them to be professional and accurate in doing their jobs is insulting.
Will black boxes be a part of the commercial trucking industry soon (at the cost of $500/recorder)? Stay tuned.