The competition among fleets for drivers seems to be heating up along with the weather across the country, as turnover is on the rise and the new hours-of-service (HOS) regulations are cutting into productivity.

And one of outgrowths of this increased competition might be more inexperienced drivers entering the workforce and a resulting increase in fleets’ CSA scores.

According to the American Trucking Assns. (ATA) Trucking Activity Report, quarterly turnover at large truckload fleets (those with more than $30 million in annual revenue) rose to an annualized rate of 97% for the first quarter of this year, up from 90% in the fourth quarter of 2012. The rate was the highest it has been since the third quarter of 2012 when it was 104% and just below the average rate in 2012 of 98%, the association said.

“Our data shows that competition for drivers across the industry remains high,” said Bob Costello, ATA chief economist. “It is our fear that this competition for drivers may be exacerbated by losses in productivity caused by recent regulatory changes such as the new hours-of-service rules.”

For those fleets with less than $30 million in annual revenue, the driver turnover rate increased to 82% in the first quarter, up from 76% in the fourth quarter of 2012.  The rate matches the 2012 annual average, but remains below the most recent high of 94% in the third quarter of last year.

Even in the less-than-truckload sector, where drivers are generally home at night, the turnover rate climbed, jumping to 15% from 10% the previous quarter. That is the highest level since the fourth quarter of 2005, ATA said.

“If the economy continues to improve as we expect it to,” Costello said, “we’ll see competition for drivers intensify, which will increase not just the turnover rate and exacerbate the driver shortage, but will push costs for fleets higher as well.”

The driver shortage is only expected to worsen by the recent change in HOS regulations, which now limit drivers to 70 hours of work per week, down from 82, and a 34-hour restart provision that includes two consecutive 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. periods off-duty.

But while some hit in driver productivity is expected, Noel Perry, senior consultant for FTR Associates and principal of Transportation Fundamentals, told FTR listeners in the group’s latest State of Freight webinar that the hit may not be as bad as first feared.

Perry said long-haul random route carriers are likely to feel the greatest pain from the HOS regulations, but that an expected 14% reduction in productivity for drivers due to the night-rest provision may never materialize. Citing the belief that the number of truckers who drive strictly at night, and would therefore be the ones most affected by the consecutive nights of rest, is relatively small overall, Perry said he believes the impact will be only a 2.5% hit to productivity.

The limitations of the restart provision to just once in a seven-day period would contribute another 2%, he added, also noting that the impact of the 30-minute break in an eight-hour period would be small as well.

“We think the effect of this is very small,” he said. “[Drivers] usually stop more than once, but the only effect is that instead of stopping for a 15-minute bathroom break and to get an ice cream cone, they now have to stop for 30 minutes. But we think most drivers are going to stop for a meal anyway.”

Perry did note that the net effect of the regulations is likely the need to hire 60,000 additional truck drivers for the industry.

When asked what fleets could do to minimize the impact, he suggested increasing pay and recruiting efforts. “This is the time to ramp up your recruiting efforts, for one, and second, it is time to [reach out to] your drivers. If you are thinking about upping driver pay, now is the time to do it.”

Also, he added, carriers should find ways to increase home time for drivers.

As these new drivers enter the workforce, though, some groups, such as the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Assn. (OOIDA), believe the lack of basic training standards for new drivers need to be improved.

OOIDA has launched a new initiative, “Truckers for Safety,” that it said will prepare the next generation of long-haul truckers and proactively address other highway safety concerns.

According to OOIDA, current regulations do not include training requirements for becoming a long-haul truck driver. While new drivers must pass a CDL test, testing covers only basic operations and does not address the many on-the-road demands faced by truckers or the hundreds of regulations they are responsible for following, the organization said.

The agenda spelled out in OOIDA’s campaign points out that the more experienced career truckers with safe driving records are often replaced by new drivers with no experience or training — who are again replaced by newer drivers a few months later when they leave the industry.

“This churn results in more accidents, which in turn will lead to greater congestion, more fuel use, lost cargoes and greater inefficiency in our nation’s freight transportation network,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president.

OOIDA’s observation over the years is that too many training programs have been focused on guaranteeing new drivers their CDLs quickly instead of ensuring they will be trained and knowledgeable truckers, according to Spencer.

 “The campaign includes not only an agenda for basic training, but also provisions for improving infrastructure, truck parking, passenger vehicle education and enforcement efforts that encourage safe driving,” he said.

“Better trained drivers mean safer drivers,” said Spencer.  “An experienced career trucker is the type that people want to share the road with, and our members tell us that training should be the biggest focus of highway safety efforts.”