Electronic logs, speed limiters, a drug and alcohol testing database and other regulations will mean more drivers are needed, even if the economy slows. Graph: FTR

Electronic logs, speed limiters, a drug and alcohol testing database and other regulations will mean more drivers are needed, even if the economy slows. Graph: FTR

Could you find 50% more drivers for your fleet? You may have to in the not-too-distant future.

“Hold on, Evan. Last week you reported the economy is expected to slow by mid-2018. Why would I need that many more drivers?”

Yes, I said economist Noel Perry with freight forecasting firm FTR called the current economic recovery “a little stale,” explaining that as recoveries drag out they get weaker, especially for trucking.

A countervailing headwind, however, will come from a mountain of new regulations. Unless we are hit by a calamity like the Great Recession, the effect on the number of drivers needed by an economic slowdown will likely be outweighed by new rules from Uncle Sam that should blow in about the same time.

“The FMCSA is in the process of writing regulations that will hit the marketplace sometime between 2016 and 2018 and will affect it profoundly,” said Perry. We’re talking about around two dozen new or changed regulations, coving everything from electronic logging devices and training provisions to speed limiters and a database of driver drug and alcohol test results.

Hundreds of thousands of drivers or potential ones will be disqualified from trucking by 2018 due to new regulations, Perry says. On top of that, as you can see from the chart, regulations will chisel away at the productivity, meaning more drivers will be needed to haul the same amount of freight.

For example, as you’ll notice in the graph, when hours of service changes in mid-2013 limited use of the 34-hour restart, productivity dropped, requiring more drivers. Conversely, when the rule was relaxed at the end of 2015, productivity improved.

Productivity will gear down again when a requirement for speed limiters kicks in, expected in 2017 or 2018.

When these and many more regulations start hitting next year and beyond, additional hires needed, Perry says, will be more than 150,000 per quarter – and don’t expect Congress to swoop in and save us.

With a potential economic slowdown and a severe driver shortage buffeting fleets from all sides, fleets need to work on strategies to avoid being caught in the crosswinds.

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