Truckers critical of NTSB plan for onboard electronic data recorders

By Linda Rosencrance, Computer World |  Government

SAN DIEGO -- Truckers expressed concerns about the National Transportation Safety Board's (NTSB) upcoming recommendation to mandate the use of electronic data recorders or "black boxes" on all commercial trucks.

In a panel discussion yesterday, Joseph Osterman, director of highway safety at the NTSB, said use of the recorders would allow investigators to more accurately reconstruct accidents involving truckers by providing such information as speed, rate of acceleration and whether the driver appropriately applied the brakes. Osterman made the comments during a panel discussion at the American Trucking Associations conference here.

Osterman said the NTSB can then use the collected data to make recommendations about how to prevent similar accidents in the future. The NTSB is scheduled to make its recommendations to the U.S. Department of Transportation sometime next year.

In addition, Osterman said, the recorders can more accurately record the number of hours a truck driver is behind the wheel. Currently, a driver is allowed to drive 10 hours in a 15-hour period. Drivers now keep a paper log of the number of hours they are on the road. The data recorders would be the similar to the so-called black boxes used on airplanes.

Donald Massey, an attorney at Adams and Reese LLP in New Orleans, who represents trucking companies in accident-related lawsuits, said it was unfair to make data recorders mandatory only on commercial trucks. He said it would "create a lopsided playing field" for the industry in cases of civil litigation.

"There is no corresponding data from the other vehicle," he said. "[And] plaintiffs' attorneys can misrepresent this objective data."

One way to level the playing field, he said, was to mandate the use of electronic data recorders on all highway vehicles.

Massey also said the privacy issue still needs to be resolved. He said truckers don't want everyone to know everything a driver does once he gets into the cab of a truck.

"This is pretty significant government intrusion," Massey said.

Roland Becker, who owns Becker Trucking Inc. in Seattle, said he agreed that accident investigators need to have both sides of the story to fairly and impartially reconstruct an accident.

"[Electronic data recorders] might help in accident investigations, but if it's going to be a liability for trucking companies, then they should not be put in," he said.

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