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New regulations cause trucker shortage

A United States Customs agent waits for a northbound truck crossing the border to enter the United States from Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, near Nogales, AZ.

JEREMY HOBSON: Here's an economic bright spot. The latest report on how much stuff the U.S. ships by truck shows a nearly three percent increase from May to June. That's a year-over-year increase of nearly 7 percent. But there may be fewer truckers available to move all that freight.

As Ben Philpott reports now from KUT in Austin, Texas.


Ben Philpott: There are really two driver shortages facing the trucking industry: quantity and quality. Over the last few years, regulators have been rating truck drivers and the companies they work for. Get a low score -- for anything from unsafe driving to improper loading -- and a pink slip may not be far behind.

Bob Costello is with the American Trucking Association.

Bob Costello: That's not necessarily a bad thing. We want the best people out there driving a truck, no doubt about it. But it does make some operational challenges, and finding qualified drivers is one of them.

Fewer qualified drivers was OK during the recession, when there was less stuff to ship. But as the economy picks back up, the lack of drivers has become an issue. Especially in Texas.

John Esparza: It would impact all ports. It would impact all sectors across the state.

John Esparza heads up the Texas Motor Transportation Association. He says Texas needs more truckers to haul goods from its Gulf Coast ports and many oil refineries.

And there's another factor that could limit trucking capacity. This fall, the federal government is considering new regulations that would cut the number of hours a driver can work. The American Trucking Association's Bob Costello says the rules would force companies to hire more drivers for trucking relays to get goods delivered in a timely manner.

Costello: We will need 5 to 7 percent more trucks and drivers to haul the same amount of freight. So yes, that would exacerbate the shortage.

National and state trucking associations say current time limits are sufficient and the new rules wouldn't improve safety. The groups hope to convince federal regulators of this before they finalize the rules in October.

In Austin, I'm Ben Philpott for Marketplace.

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