New Driver Rules Come At A Cost

February 6, 2004
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HOLLAND — New federal regulations that took effect Jan. 1 could drive up transportation costs, as driver productivity wanes.

Overall, less time on the road each day means less production and capacity for carriers, resulting in increased costs, said Paul Lomas, vice president Total Logistic Control in Holland.

The new hours-of-service regulations particularly affect long-distance hauls and routes with numerous stops, Lomas said.

“We cannot get the production we were getting under the old rules,” he said.

TLC, a full-service logistics company that operates more than 450 tractors and more than 750 refrigerated and dry trailers in 48 states and Canada, is taking a wait-and-see view of the new regulations to gauge the exact affect on costs before passing it along in the form of higher rates.

“It certainly has affected the way we work, but in terms of cost, we’ll see,” Lomas said.

“Everyone is still kind of feeling their way through the impact of this and once the impact is known, then any price adjustment can be made.”

The rule change from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was aimed at reducing driver fatigue and fatigue-related crashes and at cutting down on the resulting highway deaths.

The rules increased the number of consecutive hours that a driver may operate a truck but also hiked the amount of off-duty time drivers must take between shifts.

The hours-of-service regulations allow drivers to drive for up to 11 consecutive hours after being off duty for 10 straight hours.

Including rest periods during their shift, the new rules allow drivers to stay on duty for up to 14 hours straight, down from 15 hours daily under the previous regulation. That regulation allowed drivers to drive no more than 10 hours straight.

The new rules also require drivers to take two additional hours of rest each day.

The new rule covers drivers transporting freight in interstate commerce in commercial vehicles with a gross vehicle weight rating of 10,001 pounds or more. It also covers drivers operating vehicles transporting hazardous materials in quantities requiring vehicle placards.

Another aspect of the rules prohibits drivers from operating their rigs after being on duty for 60 hours within a seven-day period or for 70 hours in an eight-day period.

The on-duty cycle restarts whenever a driver has at least 34 consecutive hours off duty.

The new hours-of-service rules are the first major changes that U.S. DOT has implemented since before World War II.

A recent white paper report put out by LeanLogistics Inc. of Holland states that carriers are mitigating the costs of the new rules on multi-stop loads by reducing the number of stop-offs they accept. The paper says this change results in “less-than-optimum economic consolidations.”

Reducing the amount of time drivers can drive in a given period also will require more truckloads and teams of drivers on long-distance loads, LeanLogistics reported.

The regulations are the subject of a federal lawsuit by the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, which wants more stringent rules.

A trio of industry trade groups late last month filed legal briefs in support for the new regulations.

While there are some aspects of the rules that the trade groups would like to see re-examined, the industry for the most part has supported the change, said Robert Digges Jr., vice chairman of the law department of the American Trucking Association.

“We think they do what the agency is designed to do, improve safety and improve the atmosphere in which a driver can get sufficient rest,” Digges said. “We support the regulations as they were written at this point.”

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration estimates that the new hours-of-service rules will save 75 lives, and prevent 1,326 fatigue-related injuries and 6,900 property-damage crashes annually, resulting in a cost savings of $628 million a year.

As noted in a story on page B9, the fatal crash rate for large trucks fell sharply in 2002 after it trending downwards previously for some years.

Some commentators speculate that the big drop in 2002 might have resulted in part from the economy, which reduced over-the-road hauling.

But the reduction in fatal crashes prior to that is attributed to aggressive industry drug testing and strong emphasis on safety as a way of reducing higher insurance rates.

The administration has asked states during the first 60 days to write only warnings instead of citations for all but flagrant violations of the new DOT rules.   

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