New regs cause truckers travails

MARSHALL – There is a saying in the trucking industry that if you eat it or wear it, it was brought to you in a truck.

Truckers drive long distances and work long hours to bring goods and raw materials to where they are bought or used. To ensure safety on the roads, the U.S. Department of Transportation regulates the number of hours a driver can work and drive within a certain period to prevent driver fatigue.

On July 1, new hours of service regulations went into effect that has some truckers worried about their bottom line.

Truck drivers are allowed to be on-duty for 14 hours, only 11 driving, before they are required to go off-duty for a minimum of 10 hours. After either 60 or 70 hours over a seven- or eight-day period, depending on the driver’s choice of plans, the driver must take a 34-hour break to restart his/hers allowed driving hours.

“The new rules do two things,” said John Hausladen, president of the Minnesota Trucking Association. “One, it requires a driver to take a 30-minute break after eight hours driving. The bigger deal is the 34-hour restart must now include two periods from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.”

According to Hausladen, the effect of this is that depending on when a driver gets home, or if he/she gets home at all, the restart time could extend to 48 hours or more, cutting drivers’ hours and income.

Doug Gorecki is an owner-operator who hauls freight for Doug Bradley Trucking, Inc.

“It’s too early to tell, but I think maybe if a man was running 6,000 miles every two weeks, he’d be down to 5,600 miles and a little short of pay,” Gorecki said.

Curt Vogt, terminal manager for Doug Bradley Trucking’s Marshall office, pointed out the 30-minute break requirement could work hardships on warehouse and freight facilities.

“The biggest thing is if you have multiple stops, it’s going to affect where you can park in the bigger cities,” Vogt said. “We make multiple deliveries in Chicago, and it’s going to be hard to take a half-hour break without plugging up someone’s dock or yard.”

The new rules are currently being appealed by the American Trucking Association, but the case had not settled by the time the rules went into effect. The stated reasons for the rules are drivers’ health and safety, but some in the trucking industry are unconvinced.

“I’ve looked at some of the studies, and I don’t know how it’ll change anything,” said Charisse Meyer, safety director for Eickhoff Enterprises, Inc. “Studies show truck accidents are down already.”

According to Meyer, truckers worry the new requirements will affect delivery of time-sensitive loads carried by refrigerator trucks and put more drivers on the road during rush hour.

“Quite a few of our drivers prefer to drive at night because there is less traffic,” Meyer said. “That half-hour requirement is not so bad; our drivers have been using it for three or four months in preparation. The restart is easy to handle for guys who are home every weekend. It’s the guys who say out three to four weeks at a time who’ll have problems.”

Meyer said more than half of Eickhoff’s 30 drivers are on the road 10 days or more at a time, which will result in more difficulties for dispatchers to organize and plan drivers’ routes.

According to industry spokespersons, fewer hours will mean fewer people wanting to go into trucking, when there’s already a shortage of drivers, and increased transportation costs adding to the cost of everything.

“I think the biggest issue as an industry is a lot of little things that add up to considerable cost with no appreciable effect on safety,” Hausladen said.