In the trucking world, safety comes first, but continued concerns about lengthy workweeks and driver health are sending some truckers back to bed instead of onto the road. New regulations by the Obama administration, which will limit truckers’ workweek to 70 hours from 82, were announced in December 2011, but the industry had 18 months to implement the regulations.
The transitional costs over the 18-month period have already cost the industry roughly $320 million, according to Dave Osiecki, Vice President for Safety Policy at the American Trucking Association, and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) estimates that the regulations could cost the industry a half-a-billion dollars.
Along with a decrease in workweek hours, the rules require that after every 70-hour workweek truckers take 34 hours off to “restart,” which must include two 1-5 a.m. time periods. Additionally, truckers can’t be on the road for more than 11 hours at a time and are now required to take a 30-minute break during the first eight hours of any shift.
The biggest complaints about the new rules have come in the form of industry concerns about costs being passed on to consumers. Fewer truckers working fewer hours means less time transporting goods from place to place, meaning consumers might have to start paying more for products and shipping.
“If you buy more trucks and hire more people to close the gap, someone has to pay for those new trucks and people. On the other hand, if companies decided to operate at less capacity, that will also increase rates, and who pays for that? The consumer,” said Lyndon Finney, Editor of The Trucker.
There is one major upshot to the regulations, and that’s safer roads and an estimated $200 million in savings from better driver health.
“FMCSA developed the rule based on the latest sleep science and sought input from all sectors including small business owners, drivers, shippers, safety advocates and trucking companies,” said Anne Ferro, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety administrator.
The number of people killed each year in large truck crashes fell by almost 30 percent, from 5,282 in 2000 to around 4,000 in 2011, and, according to the FMCSA’s analysis, the new rules will prevent some 1,400 crashes and 560 injuries, saving at least 19 lives each year.
Despite these regulations going into effect, the battle continues. In March, oral arguments were presented in a lawsuit by the American Trucking Association asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to reverse the new regulations, but it is not clear when that ruling will be handed down.
For now, it’s hard to say what the true impact on truckers, the industry, manufacturers, and consumers will be, especially when fewer than 2 percent of drivers work the 82 hours per week. According to DOT, 85% of drivers won’t even be impacted by the new regulations. If anything, long-haul truckers that are paid by the hour and specialty shipments will be hit the hardest.
It will be a slow process for the industry to return to its pre-regulation productivity levels, but it’s not an impossible feat.