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Limits on Truck Drivers' Hours Roil Industry

May 27, 2014

Trucking companies say new rules that limit drivers' hours are hobbling productivity, shaving wages and delaying deliveries.

The crunch is pushing up freight rates, costs that are likely to be passed on to consumers through higher retail prices.

Last month, trucking industry employment hit a six-year high of 1.4 million as carriers added 6,800 workers, the most since April 2013. The economy is picking up, and businesses may still have been catching up after bad weather delayed deliveries early this year. But the job gains are at least partly fueled by the need for more drivers to offset the reduced hours, industry officials say.

"The government has forced drivers into basically a five-day workweek," says David Osiecki, head of legislative affairs for the American Trucking Associations.

The rules are the latest blow to trucking productivity. Manufacturers and retailers are also building more distribution centers closer to customers. That's shortened the average truck haul and required more drivers to handle more frequent but less profitable deliveries, says ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello.

Rules that took effect last July reduced drivers' maximum workweek to 70 hours from 82 hours and mandated a 30-minute break in the first eight hours of a shift. The changes also toughened a required 34-hour break between workweeks, stating that the hiatus must include two consecutive 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods.

It's the latter rule that's wreaking the most havoc, Osiecki says. The many drivers who work Monday through Saturday can no longer begin their Monday shifts before 5 a.m. — a virtual necessity for early-morning deliveries.


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