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Trucking Industry Moves Toward Universal Electronic Monitoring

Like many industries, the U.S. trucking industry is moving to more electronic monitoring of its operators.  Electronic logs and global positioning systems keep constant real-time track of drivers and their cargo. But the moves have also sparked backlash among some drivers and prompted research on the ethics of such practices. Hurry Up And Wait At an I-71 rest stop in Delaware County, more than 30 tractor trailers are parked. It's early, just after dawn on a Friday morning.  Driver Tim Nation is headed to Northeast Ohio will a full load of retail merchandise.

"It's going up to Warren, Ohio, and it's late."

Nation says the reason he's late is that he had to stop driving the night before because he had clocked eleven hours driving within a 14 hour period. Federal safety rules require he take a 10 hour break before he begins another driving shift. And, his employer, Baylor trucking, has installed electronic tracking and companion travel logs on his truck to assure compliance. "I had to shut down last night. Well, I ended up actually driving about probably 30 minutes illegal because of a traffic jam back there where they're working on the road. And, my clock ran out and I couldn't make it here. Which in turn puts me further away from my destination. So it makes it a lot harder to meet the appointments."  Q) When your clock runs out, what options do you have? (Nation) Nothing, you just shut down, that's it." Ohio Trucking Association spokesman Larry Woolum says while drivers for private companies have little choice but to accept e-logs and gps equipped rigs, some owner-operators or independent drivers oppose efforts by federal safety agencies to make the new technologies mandatory. Woolum declined a recorded interview for this story. He says some owner-operators  fear the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will use the new technologies and the information they produce punitively. A new transportation funding law requires adoption of electronic logs but funding for the plan remains uncertain. The Ethics Of Worker Monitoring Away from the highways, the increased use of tracking technology has prompted new studies of workplace ethics. David Freel is an adjunct professor at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business and the former head of the Ohio Ethics Commission. He  says remote monitoring raises critical ethical concerns for both employers and employees.

"Really, when you get into the area of electronic monitoring, whether its gps or otherwise, there has to be a recognition by both parties that each have respected ethical interests to be protected in the discussion whether GPS or whether it's computer use or other electronic means."

Freel says employers are legitimately concerned about the most effective and efficient use of their company resources and often the protection against liability for its misuse. "Employees are legitimately concerned about doing their jobs in the least intrusive environment, a recognition of their worth and the value of their contribution to the company, but also an invasion to their privacy," says Freel. Driver Tim Nation says he's been driving tractor-trailers for eleven years.  He expresses mixed feelings about  electronic monitoring and tracking.  He says when he's on the clock, he keeps moving with no short breaks and no meal stops.

"Well, I mean you could, but that clock's going to keep ticking with the electronic log. So you're just hurting yourself. I don't even stop to eat. I'll get a sandwich to go and get back in the truck and roll. That's supposed to be against the law too. You know you're not supposed to eat or drink while you're driving, you know."

As the interview ended, Nation was watching the clock on his computer screen, He had to idle for six more minutes before he could legally pull out of the rest stop and complete his delivery run to Warren, Ohio.