The EU working time directive could prompt a recruitment crisis in the haulage industry, and increases in transport costs could drive up monthly shopping bills by £18 per family, according to new research by fleet solutions provider Lex Transfleet.
The directive, which imposes a 48-hour average working week, will force hauliers to employ more drivers and more trucks with potentially "disastrous" consequences for hauliers, claimed Lex contract hire director Michael Nuttall.
"The average HGV driver does 55 hours a week. Journeys will have to be rescheduled, and some will not be possible at all without a split shift.
"There is already a major shortage of drivers and, if things don't dramatically improve, we're heading towards a crisis."
The directive will be implemented in stages. From August 1, 2003, it will apply to drivers of small vehicles and non-mobile workers such as warehouse staff. From March 2005, it will apply across the board, which could lead to a shortfall of 30,000 drivers, claimed Nuttall.
The directive could prompt a major rethink of the distribution infrastructure, said Christian Salvesen marketing and strategic development director David Godsell.
"We need to start looking at genuinely integrated networks across Europe arranged around European consolidation centres.
"These will act as command and control with strategically located depots bounded by four-hour drive zones to comply with the working time directive," said Godsell.
Freight Transport Association regional policy manager for Scotland and Ireland Joan Williams said tasks currently done by drivers such as washing, fuelling and loading vehicles could be handled by other staff so drivers could spend more time on the road.
"But costs will go up dramatically there's no question about that."
Safeway supply director Mark Aylwin said recruitment would become the "critical issue" in logistics, as the new rules came in from Brussels.
"We already have problems attracting staff, and things are getting worse.
"We have to make people realise what an exciting industry the supply chain actually is to work in.
"I know that but do graduates?"