HOS Rules Stifling Productivity, Says Trucking Companies

by Jana Ritter - Published: 5/19/2014

Many trucking companies say the new rules that limit drivers' hours stifling productivity, shaving wages and delaying deliveries. A problem that is pushing up freight rates and will likely be passed on to consumers in higher retail prices.

Blue truck

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.  Although its mainly due to the boosting economy and businesses still catching up after bad weather delayed deliveries early this year, industry officials also say the job gains are at least partly fueled by the need for more drivers to offset the reduced hours.

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 work weeks, stating that the hiatus must include two consecutive 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods.

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

Jet Express President Kevin Burch of Dayton, Ohio, says his company must meet a rigid schedule of auto part shipments to General Motors plants throughout the day and night, but says he can't make many Monday deliveries because of the new restrictions. His trucks sit idle and GM had to turn to the more expensive spot market to deliver goods.

Burch says his revenue has been cut by about $2 million a year and he has lost about 10% of his drivers because they're working fewer hours for less pay.

However, companies that operate in the spot market are thriving. One such carrier, Landstar, has seen double digit increases in freight volumes this year, a trend that the company partly attributes to a flurry of last-minute business as drivers at more traditional carriers exhaust their hours. "We're perhaps a little bit of a beneficiary of that," says Joe Beacom, Landstar's chief safety and operations officer. The firm, he says, has brought on more drivers to handle the additional loads.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration says a study it sponsored shows the changes have reduced driver fatigue and the benefits outweigh any costs. The rules "ensure that drivers get the rest they need to be alert, safe and awake when operating 80,000-pound vehicles on roads they share with the traveling public," says agency Administrator Anne Ferro.

The American Transportation Research Institute, a trucking industry group, says the benefits cited in the study are insignificant.