By Mary Kennedy
DTN Cash Grains Analyst
OMAHA (DTN) -- The U.S. trucking industry is seeing a shortage of 30,000 drivers nationwide, said Truckload Carriers Association Safety and Policy Director David Heller in a recent interview with Wisconsin Public Radio.
"It's an epidemic at this point," Heller told WPR. "Carriers aren't hauling freight not because they don't have equipment, not because they don't have freight; it's because they don't have the drivers to haul them." Heller went on to say that "the average driver is getting older, and that more technology and regulation is causing some of them to leave."
The Federal Beige Book, a consolidated economic report from the 12 Federal Reserve Districts released on Jan. 14, 2015, reported that many districts are concerned about the freight transportation industry, particularly the trucking sector. The report is based on information collected on or before Jan. 5, 2015.
The Atlanta District transportation contacts reported "slightly higher activity from late November through December compared with year-earlier levels. Trucking and logistics contacts noted significant increases in demand; however, capacity constraints due to a lack of drivers continued to hinder growth."
The Richmond, Va., contacts throughout the district continued to cite difficulties finding skilled workers, specifically in truck driving. In the New York City area, a trucking industry expert reported that "while business conditions have improved substantially in late 2014, reflecting both strong demand and falling diesel prices, truck drivers are in high demand."
The Cleveland District reported, "Freight volume increased since our last report, with demand being described as broad based. Profit margins improved due to lower diesel fuel prices. Hiring drivers is an ongoing process, and industry executives agree that their ability to attract and retain truck drivers is critical to their ability to expand capacity. Although capacity constraints remain an issue industry-wide, carriers are encouraged by amendments to the hours-of-service rules that were included in the recently passed federal omnibus bill."
The hours-of-service rule required a restart of a 60-to-70-hour limit, which drivers were required to comply with beginning July 1, 2013. According to an article published by Bulk Transporter on Jan. 23, "The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced in December that it had suspended enforcement of certain sections of the hours-of-service (HOS) rules, specifically the 60- or 70-hour rule, as required by the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2015, (also known as Cromnibus) enacted Dec.16, 2014."
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is responsible for the Collins Amendment language, which, according to the article, "suspends restrictions on the use of the so-called 34-hour restart that requires drivers to take two consecutive periods of 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. off during the restart, thus pushing them into riskier daytime driving and then lifts the restriction on using the restart more than once every 168 hours, or one week."
ATA President and CEO Bill Graves told the trade publication Bulk Transporter, "One of our members told us several of his drivers took four days off for the recent Thanksgiving holiday, yet when they returned to work, their hours were limited because that 96-hour break could not count as a 34-hour restart. That's just one of the impacts FMCSA failed to research that we hope they fully examine as a result of this congressional mandate."
According to Bulk Transporter, the suspension of the restart rules will continue until the end of Fiscal Year 2015 (Sept. 30) or until the final report on the naturalistic study has been submitted to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations, whichever is later.
PROPOSED NEW RULES COULD PROVE COSTLY FOR INDUSTRY
The National Grain and Feed Association reported that 2015 is poised to be a big year on the trucking front for the grain, feed and processing industry. On tap for the trucking industry this year is potential rulemaking at the FMCSA and Congress' need to pass a new highway bill before the old one expires May 31.
The NGFA said, "The rulemaking under consideration at FMCSA would increase the minimum levels of financial responsibility for motor carriers (liability coverage for bodily injury or property damage), and would increase financial responsibility for freight brokers and freight forwarders. Currently, there is a minimum of $750,000 in financial responsibility for each for-hire interstate general freight carrier. FMCSA's research report on Financial Responsibility Requirements for Commercial Motor Vehicles estimates an insurance premium cost of $5,000 per truck per year for $750,000 to $1 million in coverage."
In comments, which are due by Feb. 26, NGFA plans to ask FMCSA to consider the effect of any increase in financial responsibility on freight rates and prices received by sellers of agricultural commodities.
Mary Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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