SIKESTON - Local trucking companies are bracing to see how much of an effect new U.S. Transportation Department rules will actually have on them.
"We haven't really done a feasibility study of it yet, but it definitely will have an impact," said Geoff Rogers, president of Two Tribes Trucking in Morehouse. "It's a major change - it hasn't been changed for well over 60 years."
The regulations, which become effective today, are intended to reduce accidents involving big rigs due to driving fatigue. But predictions are that the rules will lead to higher retail prices across the board from the increase in shipping costs.
Included in the new rules are new limits on the hours truckers can spend behind the wheel between rest periods. Drivers must now rest for 10 hours before spending a maximum of 11 hours on the road within a 14-hour "on-duty" period.
The old rules allowed drivers 10 hours of driving time within a 15-hour on-duty period with eight hours of rest.
Rogers said Wal-Mart and other big corporations are planning to increase their fleets by 15 percent in order to get the same amount of shipping done while complying with the new rules.
As the preferred carrier for a potato chip company, Two Tribes Trucking makes runs of up to about 700 miles. "We may have to employ more people to get the same job done," Rogers said.
Local trucking companies which make only short trips have predicted it won't have much of an effect on them.
"On ours it's not going to affect it a whole lot - it's not going to be a big disaster," said Marilyn Newsom, president of SEMO Trucking Co. "The number of miles we run, it won't affect us much. We just basically go through the Midwest. Now, those that are going to 48 states, it's going to make a difference."
SEMO runs "basically a 500 mile radius," Newsom said, with most trips being under 10 hours.
There are changes, however, which will have an impact on the cost of doing business even for short haulers.
Among these is the rules for what constitutes being on duty, according to Melany Buttry, dispatcher for Breeden Transportation.
"The guys could go off duty if they were waiting to be unloaded or loaded," she explained. "Now they have to be on duty, and that cuts into their driving time."
Buttry said driving time lost due to the changes will probably result in a rise in freight rates. "Things we could have pulled in one day are now two-day runs, and it cuts into profits in the end," she said. Breeden Transportation officials will look over figures during this month to determine how much rates will have to be raised, Buttry said.
Newsom said her largest concern with the new rules is with loading times being redesignated as on duty time. "That will create some problems," she said.
On-duty loading time is also a concern for Griffin Distributing.
"It could prove to be an interesting deal," said Tony Graham, safety and transportation director for Keller Truck Service and Griffin Distributing.
Griffin Distributing hauls fuel to gas stations. "Most of ours are within a 150 mile range," Graham said.
Griffin trucks can expect to lose 45 minutes of driving time, however, while dropping off fuel to in-ground tanks and over an hour for above-ground tanks.
"We may end up having to hire more drivers just to handle the load we have now," Graham said. "We'll just see how it affects things."
Most of Keller's customers are short-run local trucks, but Graham said they definitely expect to see more trucks parked there.
"We have a big parking area out back," he said. "We can accommodate up to about 60 trucks."
Buttry said not all the changes are bad, however.
"The good part is that you're not running your guys to death," said Buttry.
Another change trucking companies are happy with is that under the new rules, 36 consecutive hours of off-duty time resets the weekly hour limit.
"The 36 hour restart is a good idea," Rogers said. "A day and a half is plenty of time to recuperate from anything."
Rogers said he's still a bit unclear about all the changes in the rules as he never received official notification from the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration. "Nobody's got a copy of it," he said.
Fortunately Rogers was able to find information about the change on the Internet, "but I shouldn't have to do that," he said. "I think its pretty poor on their behalf."
Especially since noncompliance results in the company being put out of service, he added.
Rogers has scheduled himself to attend an informational seminar in February, "but that's a month of running without knowing the cold hard facts about it," he said.
While Rogers understands the intent is to save lives, he points out that those in the trucking industry are seasoned drivers who are very aware of how tired they are while the drivers of recreational vehicles, for example, can drive as long as they want with no restrictions.
"There's no regulation against that," Rogers said. "And they don't know when they're tired."