New federal regulations aimed at reducing crashes from sleep-deprived drivers have put tractor trailers in a jam of a different sort—amounting to a loss in productivity, says the Indiana Motor Truck Association (IMTA). The organization’s vice president, Barbara Hunt, says stricter rules that shorten the workweek are not only hurting business, but making it even more difficult to find drivers in an industry already facing a significant shortage.
The federal regulations, which took effect July 1, involve two major changes that reduce how many hours truck drivers are allowed behind the wheel. A 34-hour “restart” provision limits the hours a driver will be allowed on the road during a seven-day period. Previously, a driver could accumulate up to 82 hours in seven days, but the new rule caps the maximum number of hours at 70 per week by limiting when and how often a driver can take the “restart”—which must include two rest periods between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m.
Less significant, but still causing headaches for drivers, is a new requirement to take a 30-minute break by the end of the eighth hour of driving; previously, breaks were not required.
Noting that the industry’s safety record has been improving year over year, the IMTA says the provisions are “a misguided attempt at making the industry safer.”
“There are drivers that enjoy driving at night to avoid congestion, and they’re now being forced to reevaluate their driving patterns,” says Hunt. “There are companies that may work with customers or shippers who ship out on a Saturday. If a driver’s restart is over the weekend, then they’re not able to pick up freight until Monday or Tuesday, that’s going to impact their capacity.”
A survey conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) shows 85 percent of truck drivers are anticipating a loss of flexibility during peak periods, and 65 percent expect decreased miles and income.
The IMTA estimates most carriers will suffer a productivity loss from two to 14 percent, and the ATRI is projecting a $95 to $376 million loss to the U.S. industry. Shepard Dunn, president and chief executive officer of Vincennes-based trucking company Best Way Express, Inc., is expecting a five to nine percent loss in productivity; he says, ultimately, it becomes a manpower issue.
“The bottom line is it’s going to take more people to get the same amount of work done, and it’s going to cost more to do that,” says Dunn. “We’d like to say we can pass those costs on to shippers, but the shippers are pretty good at pushing back. Shippers aren’t willing to pay for the lower productivity, so we’re picking it up right now.”
Dunn says the need to hire more drivers is coming at a time when his company—and the industry—are already “desperate” for drivers; Best Way Express currently needs 30. In a late 2012 report, the American Trucking Associations estimated the industry currently needs about 25,000 drivers, and IMTA Director of Safety Barry Miller says Indiana has a shortage of about 1,400. Additionally, the IMTA says large carriers with $30 million or more in annual revenue have a 97 percent turnover rate in drivers and small carriers 82 percent.
“In the trucking industry, the guy with the most drivers wins right now, and it’s been that way for a while. I’m afraid this is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Dunn. “Rules like this don’t help us. It doesn’t put a billboard out there that says ‘Hey, come work in this industry.’ It’s difficult, and it’s just not an incentive to hire people.”
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration argues the regulations will have the opposite effect: shortening the workweek will lead to more pleasant working conditions, attracting more drivers and reducing turnover.
The IMTA says the changes will undoubtedly affect the industry’s bottom line, which trickles down to increase the cost of products on store shelves.
“Anytime there’s an increase in cost in the industry, and we feel there will be an increase based on lost productivity and the need to hire additional drivers,” says Hunt, “it will ultimately affect the consumer at the shelf, because it impacts our freight rates and gets passed down.”
The regulations have now been in effect about one month, so Dunn says it’s difficult to know the full impact of the rules, but fears an economic recovery could pose a serious dilemma for the industry.
“We can’t get done what we want to get done already,” says Dunn. “At some point, the demand for trucks is going to outweigh the amount of trucks that are out there.”
Source: Inside INdiana Business