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New regulations deliver challenges to trucking industry

Wade McLarenChanges are placing a heavy load on the local trucking industry. New rules set by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), a part of the Department of Transportation (DOT), have created steep challenges.

“These changes have placed a burden on the industry,” said Darlene Johnson, president of Woodland Truck Lines states.

Effective July 1 of last year, the maximum amount of time that a commercial driver can work in one week was cut from 82 hours to 70 hours, triggering a “restart” period of 34 hours before they can work again. It also prohibited drivers from driving more than eight hours without taking a break of at least 30 minutes. According to the DOT, these two major changes, along with other provisions of this law, are intended to reduce driver fatigue and make the roads safer.

The DOT estimates that the rule will help prevent 1,400 truck crashes, 560 injuries and 19 deaths per year. A Washington State University study released this year supports FMCSA’s new rules, citing drivers had less lapses of attention, sleepiness and could maintain their lanes better.

Wade McLaren, president of Bluebird and Atlas Van Lines in Vancouver, isn’t so sure.
“Statistically, accidents and fatalities have been down over the past several years with better equipment on the roads,” he said. “Why make these changes now?”

Monitoring the changes, Virginia-based American Transportation Research Institute reported an increase of driving during more congested time periods, a safety risk FMCSA did not address in their analysis. The same report also noted more than 66 percent of drivers indicated increased levels of fatigue.

“Drivers might be 15 minutes from their destination. The clock can shut them down when they could just have easily gotten the truck to where it was going to be for the next several days,” McLaren said.

Jimmie Craig, manager of the Food Express Inc. terminal in Vancouver sees similar issues. Lack of logical margins in the rules and the mandated computer logs can trigger violations even if drivers are only two seconds late.

Another concern is costs associated with the new rules. Additional man hours, longer travel times due to triggered restarts and delays yield fewer loads for the same amount of time.

The industry sees the consumer bearing the ultimate load. With freight costs already starting to climb, Craig expects a 30-40 percent increase.

As Johnson pointed out, if you buy a head of lettuce or ream of paper, chances are it arrived on a truck.

“Manufacturers, especially commodities, are very sensitive to freight costs,” he added. “[These] changes have a ripple affect into other industries. They have no choice but to raise prices on the consumers.”