WATERLOO, Iowa --- New regulations in the trucking industry have some industry observers concerned about a driver shortage.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has made changes in rules to place more responsibility for safety, log books and hours of service on the shoulders of drivers. In the past, rules focused more on the companies that employed drivers.
Some industry participants estimate the changes could cull the number of eligible drivers by as much as 30 percent.
"There will be major, major driver shortages as we move into 2011 and beyond," Jeremy Geertsma, an Expeditors' Detroit district manager, told an audience at the Commodity Trends 2011 Outlook conference last fall in Michigan.
An aging driver pool and tougher safety regulations will cut into driver ranks by an estimated 200,000, he said.
Some have called the new rules the most comprehensive regulatory change in years.
But carriers also say the changes have a legitimate purpose.
"It's going to weed out the bad drivers," said Darrin Gray, president of Gray Transportation in Waterloo. "It's out there as a scorecard, so when you hire them you know what you're getting because of their performance on the road."
The new rules have been in place since December, Gray said.
"I didn't lose any drivers," he said.
He noted state departments of transportation can't suspend licenses, but drivers are graded based on their adherence to the rules. Drivers who don't follow the rules will be assessed penalty points that could cost them job opportunities and prime-level pay, Gray said.
"What we're going to see in the near future is drivers will make more money based on a lower score," he said. "Those are considered more premium drivers."
Gray noted there didn't seem to be a shortage of applicants.
The new rules help carriers get a gauge on driver qualifications, Gray noted.
"We're talking to drivers every day, some who are 500 to 1,000 miles away, so it's not practical to do a face-to-face interview," he said. "Any information that tells us the drivers' history helps us out."
Chuck Andrews, president of SBS Trucking in Waterloo, isn't sure how much effect the new rules will have.
"It has definitely changed in that the quality of the driver is going to have to be a lot better," Andrews said. "Their driving records and a lot of that stuff, a lot of companies are really tightening up qualifications because of this. And part of that ... you get into the medical things, the health of the drivers. It's going to have a definite effect."
Estes Express Lines in Waterloo has 10 local drivers, which is as many as ever, said Tony McNally, account manager.
He said he wasn't sure how the rules would affect the industry.
"I know they're talking about maybe reducing hours and stuff like that, and that would affect all trucking companies," he said.