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How the New Laws Impact Driver Flexibility

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a division of the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), proposed sweeping changes for the trucking industry in December of 2011. These changes went into effect in July of 2013. Some of the highlights of the new laws include:

  • The number of hours truckers can work in a week was reduced from 84 to 70.
  • After working 70 hours in one week, truckers must be allowed a 34-hour re-start period that must include two time periods between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m.
  • Drivers must take at least one 30-minute break during the first eight hours of any shift.

Disagreement Regarding New Regulations

While everyone in the trucking industry agrees that safety is paramount, there is vehement disagreement about these new regulations. Dave Osiecki, the president of the American Trucking Association (ATA), states that the industry as a whole spent $320 million dollars in order to comply with these mandates in just the first two months.

The FMCSA anticipates that the total cost of transitioning to these changes will be one-half of a billion dollars. However, it also argues that improving driver health will put $200 million dollars back into the trucking industry. Anne Ferro, an administrator at the FMCSA, states that the regulations were implemented after extensive study about sleep patterns and how driver fatigue contributes to accidents. Ms. Ferro states that the FMCSA sought input from the following sectors:

  • Trucking companies
  • Safety advocates
  • Small business owners
  • Shippers
  • Drivers

In his rebuttal, ATA president Dave Osiecki states that he is unconvinced by the numbers. According to Osiecki, trucking companies have no choice but to absorb these costs and pass them along to customers. He is concerned that smaller trucking companies will go out of business due to the inability to handle the new costs.

In the trucking industry, weather and traffic conditions make rigid scheduling unrealistic. A few days into his or her route, a driver may have to drastically change plans due to severe weather, accidents, road construction or just general congestion. Under the re-start rules implemented by the FMCSA, drivers are forced to sit and wait out the 34-hour break before hitting the road again. This idle time is costly to drivers, trucking companies and customers who must pay the increased costs of trucking companies.

Productivity Concerns

Trucking industry leaders estimate that the new regulations will lower driver productivity between two and 10 percent. Owners of trucking companies are expected to move the same amount of freight with fewer drivers on the road. To meet the demand, trucking company owners and owner-operators must purchase additional trucks and hire more drivers.

The new industry regulations are expected to impact approximately 15 percent of drivers, with the majority of them being long-haul truckers who are paid by the hour. Industry experts stress that the forced 30-minute break after eight hours will actually take up more time. The driver has to find a place to pull off the interstate, look for a parking spot, park the truck and wait 30 minutes before attempting to get back on the road. In reality, this process takes closer to 45 minutes to one hour to complete. That equates to a loss of around 50 miles per day, which quickly cuts into driver wages when they are paid hourly.

Impact on Other Businesses

Businesses that depend on truckers to deliver raw materials and other goods may be hit hard by the new driver regulations, according to Dave Osiecki of ATA. It could take longer for their loads to be delivered, which may in turn cause the customers of trucking companies to lose business or be forced to increase prices. If a factory or manufacturing plant doesn't have the supplies it needs in a timely manner, owners still have to pay their idle workers.

Osiecki estimates that it will take six months to one year for the trucking industry to get back to normal after the new requirements imposed on it by the FMCSA. He feels that a large part of the problem is that the customers of trucking companies are demanding faster and faster delivery, especially of perishable items. This puts pressure on truckers to ignore safety in favor of meeting customer demands.