Why Safer Trucking Could Mean Pricier Groceries

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It must be the New Math. A well-meaning Department of Transportation proposal unveiled Tuesday aimed at curbing the number of hours that truckers work — a move that's supposed to cut down on driver fatigue and save about 100 lives a years — has managed to tick off both truckers and safety advocates. The safety folks say it could make the roads either more or less dangerous; truckers say it could lead to either more or less work; and everyone agrees it will soak the economy. The rule would limit truckers to one 12-hour shift per 24 hours. The current regulation allows for 10-hour shifts followed by eight hours' rest (or a maximum 16 hours per day of driving). Some drivers pile on the shifts in consecutive days to achieve their maximum 60-hour workweek within four days, so they can work a second job in the remaining days.

The watchdog group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is arguing that the rule would actually lead to increased driving hours over a two-week period and that 12-hour shifts will lead to more driving hours in which truckers are fatigued. The American Trucking Association, meanwhile, argues that truckers' livelihoods would be hurt because the regulation would limit their maximum hours — particularly on jobs that are time-sensitive. No matter how you slice it, the program would be costly both to drivers and to shipping companies. And that, of course, means higher prices to consumers, with one federal agency estimating that the economy will take a $3.4 billion hit over 10 years. It's too bad they can't e-mail those goods we order online.