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New Trucking Rules Fail to Make Roads Safer

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Sept. 30, 2015 New Trucking Rules Fail to Make Roads Safer Trucking’s new Hours of Service rules, designed to get fatigued drivers off of America’s roadways, have actually increased the volume of trucks on the road during the day when traffic is heaviest, creating even more hazardous conditions, said Rebecca Brewster, president and chief operating officer of the American Transportation Research Institute, Arlington, Va., in her remarks at the Steel Market Update conference in Atlanta last month. In July 2013, regulators enacted Hours of Service rules that limit how long truck drivers can be behind the wheel. The new standards require drivers to reset their weekly clock by taking at least 34 hours off. Those 34 hours must include two consecutive overnight periods when drivers are resting from 1 to 5 a.m. “The new rules have a big impact on when drivers can drive and when trucking operations can occur,” Brewster said. A year after the change, the regulations have not produced safer conditions, according to ATRI research. In fact, quite the opposite, Brewster said. Truck GPS data shows that the rules have had the unintended consequence of shifting much of the truck traffic to the daytime hours. The crash risk for truck drivers nearly doubles during the daytime when there are many more small cars and trucks on the highway. “We had a federal rule change that was designed to improve safety. Actually, it puts trucks on the road at a much riskier time. Looking at crash exposure, in fact crashes did go up. It creates a challenge for us in terms of our ability to deliver freight on time,” she said. To comply with the limits on how long drivers can be behind the wheel each day, long-haul truckers need places to rest. But there is a serious lack of safe parking areas for big trucks. Truckers are often left no choice but to pull over on the side of the road, which creates hazardous conditions for them and other vehicles that must pass by. State governments that are short on funds are reluctant to spend money on truck stops, while truckers are reluctant to pay to park their rigs on private property. So the parking issue is at a standstill, Brewster said. Another more long-term concern of the trucking industry is the lack of qualified drivers, she continued. The current shortage is estimated at about 30,000 drivers, but that figure could hit 240,000 in the next 10-15 years as drivers age out and retire or quit to find better jobs. Demographic stats show a large cadre of current drivers in the 45-65 age range. “We lack a workforce in the younger ages, and it’s a real problem for us. We are not backfilling in terms of young people coming into the industry,” Brewster said. For more on the Steel Market Update Conference, see the October issue of Metal Center News.