Commercial truck and bus drivers in California and around the country will now have to log their hours electronically, according to a new rule promulgated by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. This step is intended to prevent driver fatigue while on the road. Since 1938, truck drivers have been required to keep logs of their driving hours, but officials say that it is too easy to evade the laws by keeping two separate records.

The electronic logging devices automatically track the time each driver has been on the road using location data, the distance driven, vehicle movement and the hours of engine operation. This technology is being described as a needed update to logging and a way to help roadside safety inspectors. The changes have not been without opposition, particularly from independent truck drivers, who say the new logs will be used by the companies that hire freight drivers to require them to stay on the road until they meet their limit.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association sued the FMCSA in an attempt to block the new safety rule. According to the agency, installing electronic devices in trucks will save $1 billion each year, largely through a reduction in paperwork. It also claims that approximately 26 lives will be saved and 562 injuries avoided each year. Tow truck drivers are exempt from the rule as are drivers who use time cards to track hours. Buses and trucks older than model year 2000 are also exempt.

Truck driver fatigue is a common cause of truck accident injuries, and victims often incur high medical expenses and are unable to return to work for lengthy periods. An attorney for an injured victim might use the time logs and other evidence to establish that the driver and the company itself should be held financially responsible for the losses that have been incurred.