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Trucker rests boost shipper costs on productivity drop

New U.S. safety regulations requiring truckers to work shorter shifts may cut productivity, worsen a driver shortage and boost freight costs for the $8.4 trillion in goods hauled each year by American big rigs.

That is to be balanced by a decline in deaths and injuries from crashes and savings in health-care costs as the regulations improve driver safety, according to federal regulators.

The rules that took effect this month may reduce productivity by about 3 percent, translating into $18 billion in additional costs for an industry with annual revenue of about $600 billion, according to freight data and forecasting firm FTR Associates. Training and transition expenses may add an additional $320 million to truck companies’ annual tabs, according to an estimate by the Department of Transportation.

“That cost of transportation has to be passed on,” said Charles Clowdis, a Nashville, Tenn.-based director of transportation advisory services at IHS Global Insight. “If I run a company, it means I’ll have to have more drivers doing the same thing, which means I’ll have to raise my rates, and that’ll raise the cost of the goods I’m transporting to the consumer.”

Companies such as YRC Worldwide and Werner Enterprises will be scouring an already tight labor market in trucking for additional help as the rules reduce the maximum number of weekly hours drivers spend on the road to 70 from 82.

The rules also mandate a 34-hour rest period each week that would require the nation’s 1.6 million long-haul drivers to be off two consecutive nights. And the regulations mandate a 30-minute break after eight hours on the road.

About 1,400 crashes, 560 injuries and 19 deaths each year will be prevented, said Marissa Padilla, a spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

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