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New Rule Requires Electronic Recorders for Problem Truckers

A new federal regulation issued Friday will require trucking companies that repeatedly violate driver time limits to install electronic recorders that track how long truckers spend behind the wheel.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the rule provides a tool against carriers and "drivers who attempt to get around the rules" and "put people on our highways at risk."

But the recorders will only be required for trucking companies flagged during on-site compliance reviews, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

Only about 1 percent to 2 percent of the 750,000 trucking companies in the United States are reviewed on site each year.

Among the companies that hadn't been reviewed despite being found "deficient" based on roadside inspections is Hester Inc., the Alabama trucking company whose tractor-trailer crossed the Interstate 65 median near Munfordville, Ky., March 26 and slammed into a van, killing 10 people and the truck driver.

Kentucky State Police and the National Transportation Safety Board are still investigating the accident. Some independent safety experts have speculated that the truck driver, Kenneth Laymon, may have fallen asleep because no skid marks were left by the truck.

The Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced Friday that it will conduct an on-site review of Hester in Fayette, Ala.

Shashunga Clayton, an agency spokeswoman, said the compliance review was ordered because the company had a fatal accident.

The Courier-Journal reported Wednesday that Hester was given a deficient rating in February based on failed driver's inspections and moving violations, and that some independent experts said it should not have been on the road.

Clayton declined to say why Hester hadn't already been given a compliance review, although she referred to a policy that says they are routinely ordered only on carriers "deficient in multiple areas."

Electronic on-board recorders automatically record the number of hours drivers spend operating the vehicle. Federal rules limit the number of hours drivers may work each day and week and specify how long they must rest.

Truck-safety advocates have said the paper logbooks the recorders are designed to replace are so easily forged that they are known in the industry as "comic books."

Under the rule issued Friday, carriers must use the devices if the compliance review finds that they violate hours of service rules 10 percent of the time.

The department projects that 5,700 interstate carriers will use the devices after the first year.

The NTSB, which has pushed for the devices for 30 years, had recommended that every carrier be required to adopt them. Advocacy group, including the Trucking Safety Coalition, also said they should have been required universally.

But Gerald Donaldson, senior safety director for Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said the rule is an improvement over one proposed in 2007 by the Bush administration, which would have applied to only 930 carriers.

The American Trucking Association supports the regulation because it provides incentives for safe carriers to voluntarily adopt use of the devices and mandates them only for "severely non-compliant carriers," spokesman Clayton Boyce said.

"This is a good example of the important role of technology in enhancing driver, vehicle and highway safety," he said.

But Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the 156,000 member Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, said the recorders don't account for time truckers spend loading and unloading, and they may not reduce accident rates.

He said the organization opposed requiring them for all trucks because they cost as much as $2,400 a year per vehicle.

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