An overtime limit of around 18 hours per week for drivers of trucks, taxis and buses took effect on Monday, as Japan looks to improve standard work conditions in an industry struggling with an acute labor shortage.

While the move seeks to address the widespread practice of driver overwork, the change has raised concerns about a drop in transport delivery capacity. The logistics shortfall, brought about by the new overtime restriction, is known in the industry as the "2024 problem."

Restricting the number of hours drivers can work may lead to customers experiencing poorer service and longer delivery times.

Japan is already facing a shortage of drivers due to an aging workforce, poor wages in the industry and difficult working hours, while demand for package delivery is increasing.

People board a bus in Yokohama on April 1, 2024. (Kyodo)

The overtime cap will also cover doctors and those working in the construction industry, as well as in the sugar industries in Kagoshima and Okinawa prefectures.

Under the law on workstyle reform, implemented in 2019, overtime for doctors and drivers will be capped at 960 hours per year, while emergency medical workers can do up to 1,860 overtime hours per year.

Those working in the construction sector will be capped to an annual 360 hours, or 720 hours in special cases, while the upper overtime limit for workers in the sugar industry is under 100 hours per month.

The government has said the nation's delivery capacity will be 14 percent lower after the changes are implemented.

According to credit research agency Tokyo Shoko Research, 39 percent of firms in the logistics and construction industries said they would have to reevaluate delivery times under the new rules.

Meanwhile, the Japan Medical Association found that 30 percent of hospitals and medical facilities surveyed would find it more challenging to maintain 24-hour care.

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