Changes to Driver Rules Likely to Cause Higher Trucking Rates

New rule changes took effect on July 1 that directly impact truckers and trucking companies.  But the effect of the rule changes are expected to reverberate throughout the economy, with analysts predicting truck rate increases of as much as ten percent.

The rule changes, which were finalized late in 2011 by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will require drivers to take a break of at least 30-minutes within an eight hour shift, and will also amend the “34 –hour restart” provision, to require two periods from 1a.m. to 5 a.m. within the restart, and limit restarts to no more than one per week.

Although FMCSA officials say the changes are intended to “prevent fatigue-related truck crashed and save lives,” industry officials predict the rules will instead result in a litany of unintended consequences, including higher rates and additional strains on an already severe driver shortage.

As reported in Logistics Management, truckers and industry professionals continue to oppose the new rules, much as they mounted strong campaigns against the changes during FMCSA’s lengthy rulemaking process.  “It may not sound like much and Washington bureaucrats within the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration say the change is both necessary and slight, but truckers and operations personnel working the day-to-day matrix of building full truckloads with sufficient numbers of drivers say the change is meaningful – and costly,” the magazine noted.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Driver Association (OOIDA), called the new rules “probably well-intentioned,” but said the impact would likely be a five-to-ten percent decrease in productivity.  “Most truckers believe that the rules eliminate some of the flexibility drivers need to respond to what their brains and bodies are telling them,” he said at a mid-May gathering of industry professionals hosted by Wall Street investment firm Stifel Nicolaus.  “The new 34-hour restart is the most troubling as it requires that each driver’s weekly schedules be reset once a week – and each resetting must include two consecutive nights of sleep each inclusive of the hours from 1 a.m. through 5 a.m. within the context of the relevant time-zone at their home terminal.

“That means,” he added, “that West Coast domiciled drivers cannot start out after their weekly rest while on the East Coast until 8 a.m. eastern standard time.”

Mark Rourke of Schneider National estimated that the rules could result in a rate increase of as much as four percent, adding that “It’s a big deal, it changes our work configurations.”

Richard Mikes of Transport Capital Partners echoed that sentiment, citing the impact the tightened driver hours will have on capacity.  “Whether the lost productivity costs are two or four percent, that’s a big number when you are in as close a balance as we are.”

While no one can predict with certainty what impact the rule changes will have, it is noteworthy that the trucking industry continues to present a united front in opposing the new rules.  Several groups including the American Trucking Associations filed a lawsuit to delay implementation of the rule changes.  In addition, members of the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation Committee have weighed in, by sending FMCSA a letter asking that implementation be delayed until that lawsuit is resolved.