Archives/Subscribe | October 10, 2011

Proposed truck-shift rule a concern By Erin Golden WORLD-HERALD STAFF WRITER

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When she travels around the country to meetings of state trucking associations, American Trucking Associations Chairwoman Barbara Windsor usually knows what she's going to hear.

Concerns about the economy and fuel prices are always hot topics. But truckers are grappling with a variety of other changes in the industry, from outfitting trucks to meet increasingly higher fuel standards to government proposals that could change when and how long they could be behind the wheel.

In an interview before this week's Nebraska Trucking Association meeting in Omaha, Windsor said most of the truckers she's met in recent months say they're hiring back workers they had to lay off during the recession and, depending on the type of products they haul, they're seeing a slight uptick in spending by customers. Things are picking up at the fastest rate for companies that work with manufacturing firms, as that industry recovers at a quicker pace than construction.

Windsor said one of her organization's biggest concerns is that some of that growth could be slowed by a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration proposal that would drop drivers' on-duty time from 14 to 13 hours per shift and reduce driving time within that shift from 11 to 10 hours.

The new rules also would require drivers to stay off the road if it has been more than seven hours since they've had a break of at least 30 minutes and to take two off-duty periods each week between midnight and 6 a.m.

Policymakers aim to make the roads safer, but Windsor said ATA members feel the changes are over the top. She said accident rates have been steadily declining, and the new rules would clog highways because drivers would be unable to schedule their drive time for periods when highways are less busy.

"There's a good possibility we would need additional drivers," she said. "This could mean a lot of things. It could mean freight that's slower to arrive."

That's particularly concerning, she said, because companies don't have the resources to hire extra people and even if they did, they're having a hard time finding drivers.

Windsor said she frequently urges industry leaders to reach out to schools, community colleges and other institutions that could help get a new generation in the driver's seat. The average age of truckers has been rising in 2000, it was 43, and in 2008 it was up to 45, according to ATA surveys.

She said her group has formed an "image committee" and is trying to attract a wider range of potential drivers, including women.

Windsor, the president and CEO of the Maryland-based Hahn Transportation, is the first woman to serve in her role at the ATA, but she said she's been seeing an increase in the number of women serving as both truckers and trucking executives.

"There are more and more all the time," she said.

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