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Expected Crackdown on Distracted Driving Captured the Attention of IT Firms in 2009
Monday, 21 December 2009 00:00

Some of the year‘s most significant information technology developments came from Washington, D.C., where federal regulators planted the seeds for tighter industry oversight for years to come.

Both the Department of Transportation and members of Congress came out against distracted driving, though no legislation appeared imminent at the end of 2009.

DOT, however, has promised a rulemaking that will address driver distraction, and legislators introduced bills that would, among other things, likely ban text messaging from commercial trucks.

DOT is currently mulling one rule that would "consider banning text messaging and restricting the use of cell phones by truck and interstate bus operators," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said during November.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced separate texting bans in the Senate, and American Trucking Associations threw its support behind Schumer‘s bill in October.

While the language of legislators‘ anti-texting proposals did not single out specific types of devices, DOT‘s push to combat distracted driving did not appear to exempt onboard communications devices tailored specifically for the trucking industry.

"They‘re distracting," LaHood said of the trucking industry‘s in-cab mobile communications systems. Manufacturers of these devices, meanwhile, maintain that the in-motion safety features of these on-board computers makes them much safer than consumer devices.

Besides worries over distracted driving, motor carriers this year had to cope with more stringent retention requirements for electronic data.

According to Qualcomm, the dominant player in truck telematics, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration this year stepped up its use of Global Positioning System history logs as supporting evidence in driver hours-of-service audits.

In late 2008, FMCSA ended a more than decade-long moratorium on using electronic data for enforcement purposes.

As a result, Qualcomm said in September it had ―seen an uptick‖ in FMCSA‘s use of electronic data in enforcement actions. The agency now requires fleets that use GPS tracking and electronic onboard recorders to retain data for six months.

Norm Ellis, vice president and general manager for Qualcomm‘s telematics division, said that FMCSA began requesting electronic records more frequently in the middle of the year, by which time carriers had had time to build up the required six months of back-data.

Earlier still in the year, FMCSA yanked a Bush-administration rule that would have required some carriers to use EOBRs back from the Office of Management and Budget.

In November, Debbie Hersman, chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, said she believes all commercial trucks should be required to use EOBRs.

Among the other noteworthy trucking IT developments in 2009:

  • TMW Systems, Beachwood, Ohio, bolstered its position as market leader in the fleet-management software business by acquiring Innovative Computing Corp., Brentwood, Tenn., in late November.
  • Fleets hauling high-security and sensitive commodities for the Department of Defense got an extra four months to install trailer-tracking hardware and software. A mandate had set an Oct. 1 deadline, but the date was pushed to Feb. 15.
  • A number of trucking companies flocked to social networking Web sites. Most carriers involved said that their experiments on sites such as Facebook and Twitter were intended to bolster marketing and driver recruiting efforts.
  • States poured federal stimulus dollars into "smart road" projects, which are intended to improve traffic safety by fusing information technology with transportation infrastructure. Projects are under way that, eventually, would allow roadside sensors to beam weather reports to passing vehicles, or wirelessly notify truck drivers of available parking at nearby rest stops.

Transport Topics, 12/21/2009