New rules that are expected to further stretch the already tight capacity of Mexico’s trucking sector by limiting the hours that a driver can be at the wheel have prompted a major business group to seek the suspension of the rules because there are too few rest stops to enable truckers to comply.
The Confederation of Industrial Chambers (CONCAMIN), which represents more than 120 chambers around Mexico, said the government should hold off enforcing the hours-of-service (HOS) rules until it can ensure there are enough rest stops with the necessary security, space, and quality driver services.
The organization said that although the government contends that there are 150 stops countrywide, it hasn’t published a list — as required in the rules — that identifies all the stops. Moreover, the number of stops needed nationwide is likely to be closer to 300, and it’s not clear whether the stops in existence have the facilities and space necessary to accommodate all the trucks that will need them, CONCAMIN said.
The break requirements
The rules require truck drivers to take a 30-minute break every five hours, and limit drivers to no more than 14 hours behind the wheel at a time, after which they must take an eight-hour break. Truckers must document their driving time with a paper logbook, which allows for a slightly less rigid interpretation of their driving time than the electronic logging device (ELD) logbook required by the United States since December.
The new rules will likely add to the challenges facing shippers as they seek trucking services amid strong demand. Mexico is entering its peak season after a 7 percent increase in the loaded cargo handled by the country’s ports in the first six months of the year.
Truckers and shippers say the laws could add to the stress on already tight trucking capacity, which is due to the rapidly growing volume of cargo that needs to be moved, a driver shortage, and another new law that took effect in June requiring all double tractor trailers to be registered with the government. The HOS rules will require drivers to either stop and rest on long trips, extending the time needed for the trip, or have a second driver take over when the HOS of the first one expire.
Felipe de Javier Peña Dueñas, president of CONCAMIN’s transportation commission, said the government has yet to respond to his organization’s request for the rules to be suspended. The two sides are looking for a date to meet in the next few days, he said, adding that it appears for the moment that the government is not rigorously enforcing the rules.
The request was also backed by the National Chamber of Cargo Autotransporters (CANACAR), which said in a release Thursday that the country lacked the “minimal conditions for safety and security needed to comply with the rules.”
The US HOS laws did not have a dramatic impact on the trucking sector until laws that took effect in December required drivers to document their work digitally — with the aforementioned ELD — rather than in a logbook. The introduction of ELDs has triggered double-digit, year-over-year increases in spot and contract trucking rates. It’s also created widespread concern about a chronic driver shortage, with trucking companies refusing work because they have plenty already. The tight US truck capacity environment is expected to last for another 18 months, without a dramatic fall in demand.
Dueñas: Mexico’s law may affect the nation’s truck capacity somewhat
Dueñas said that the Mexican law could diminish the Mexican truck capacity somewhat, given the existing driver shortage and the fact that it would take more time for drivers to complete their routes due to all the stops. But the confederation backs the rules because those shortfalls are outweighed by the benefits of increased safety on the highways, he said.
CONCAMIN worked on the rules for months, believing that the issue of driver fatigue is critical and a major cause of accidents, he said.
“We are sure that the impact won’t be that big on the movement of cargo,” he said. “But this rule, lamentably, doesn’t provide for the conditions of safety that we worked for.”
Rest stops need to be far enough off the highway to ensure the trucks are not exposed to the danger of an accident, and have enough space to accommodate the number of trucks required to stop, Dueñas said. They also need to have the food, toilet, and related facilities sufficient to support drivers on an eight-hour layover.
The difficulty of providing enough rest areas is exacerbated by the high levels of robberies and cargo theft prevalent in Mexico. Cargo theft totaled approximately $4.6 billion in 2017, according to CANACAR, and robberies on trains and trucks rose in the first quarter of 2018. Rest stops must have enough light and armed security to prevent robberies occurring while the truck is stopped, Dueñas said. And they must have the GPS and satellite contacts necessary to allow the tracking and monitoring technology — that is often used in Mexico to prevent cargo robberies — on board the truck to work.
“Unfortunately the issue of delinquency, of the growing robberies, in certain areas of the country is such that for trucks to stop for 30 minutes every five hours would put it in a great risk of being robbed,” he said.
He cited the example of a trip from Guadalajara or Mexico City, to Laredo, a distance of slightly more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) that would take 18 to 20 hours.
“So logically, the driver will have to take the half hour stop three or four times, and one of eight hours,” he said. “And where is he going to do it? With the rising number of assaults and robberies, if you have the possibility that the driver has to look for a place to stop, and leaves the highway, it puts him and the cargo at greater risk.”