New driver-safety rules could raise trucking costs

Transport companies are unhappy about the Obama administration's mandated breaks and limits on hours worked.

By Aimee Picchi Jul 1, 2013 2:19PM

Workers reading clipboard by tanker (© Monty Rakusen, Cultura, Getty Images)The Obama administration wants to put the brakes on deadly large truck crashes, which took the lives of almost 4,000 people in 2011. 

But its method for fixing the problem isn't going over well with the trucking industry. As of Monday, new regulations restrict the maximum workweek to 70 hours, instead of the industry's previous 82 hours. Drivers will also need to a 34-hour break to "restart" a new week and take a 30-minute break in the first eight hours of driving. 

Truckers say the rules are unnecessary and will drive up costs for their industry, which in turn, will add to the cost of the goods they're shipping. Carriers that will be affected by the regulations include companies such as Werner Enterprises (WERN). 

"When the lay person who doesn't work within the industry thinks of trucking they think of 'Smokey and the Bandit,'" trucker Bryan Spoon told CNBC, referring to the 1977 film about a freewheeling trucker who dodges the police and roadblocks. "That's just not the way it works. We run safe, we run compliant."

The rules may reduce an average carrier's capacity by 3%, which will eventually trickle down to consumers, CNBC noted. Still, consumers aren't likely to feel the impact for a while, although rates may inch up by holiday shipping time.

But the trucking industry -- which employs nearly 1.4 million people -- isn't alone in facing cutbacks in working hours over fatigue concerns. Medical residents, who used to be allowed to work for more than 24 hours without a break, faced new rules in 2011 that cut consecutive hours to no more than 16. Yet some evidence shows that residents are instead actually making more errors and aren't getting any more sleep, Reuters Health reported earlier this year.

The Department of Transportation argues that the stricter driver rules will lower costs by reducing damages from large truck and bus accidents.

"The result is a fair and balanced approach that will result in an estimated $280 million in savings from fewer large truck crashes and $470 million in savings from improved driver health. Most importantly, it will save lives," said Anne Ferro, the administrator of the agency's Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, in a statement.

The Department of Transportation estimates that the new rules will save 19 lives annually and avoid 560 injuries each year. 

While some truckers weren't convinced, others see the need for the new regulations. 

"The big accidents that happen [are] because the driver was up for 36 hours straight," truck driver Janessa Mann told NPR. "Your brain can't handle that."

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi. 

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Jul 1, 2013 7:11PM
Once again government meddling in something it has no business meddling in.  Dumb, Dumb, and Dumb.  How many of those accidents were caused by the other driver.  Folks I have said it before and I will say it again, no amount of government regulation is going to save your life and if you think it will you are un-American.  We don't need any more rules or laws, we need to start eroding rules and laws.  It has cost us enough money.  Soon they won't have any to take. 
Jul 1, 2013 9:30PM

The rules force you sleep when you are not tired drive when you are drowsey ie you could not sleep when gov says you should?? common sense tells you when to sleep i personally could take nap everday at 2pm I wake every day at 3am no clock gov says 34hr restart has to include sleeping thru 2 of these periods I will be very tired less safe!! nope gov wants me on highway at 6,7,8 am to disrupt your commute while i would already be there not in your way


Jul 2, 2013 9:34AM
This new rule is a joke. Now I have to add another half an hour to my schedule everyday that I don't need and on top of that Ill now need 50 + hours for a 34 hour reset makes no sense. but again the powers to be make decisions based on what they believe not on actual facts insurance companies win again.
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