WASHINGTON — The United States’ top trucking safety regulator is sending a clear message to the nation’s shippers: stop detaining and delaying truck drivers unnecessarily, or prepare to be regulated.
“I’m pretty passionate about driver compensation and driver detention,” Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administrator Anne S. Ferro said in a keynote speech Tuesday at the 93rd annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board.
“Drivers have among the toughest jobs in our nation. They operate under very difficult conditions, they operate under extreme stress and they operate, frankly, in some cases with extreme disrespect when it comes to detention time and poor compensation given the job and the skills and knowledge they have to have,” she said.
In November, Ferro spent two days riding in a tractor-trailer with owner-operator Leo Wilkins, a member of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, traveling from Maryland to Missouri and making deliveries in several states.
“That’s chump change to a driver but for me it was a great experience, a great opportunity,” she said. The ride-along “engendered further passion for me to press forward on improving the conditions under which drivers operate,” Ferro said.
Her passion could translate into a rule-making aimed at preventing shippers from detaining drivers, eating into their available hours of service and per-mile pay. “Driver detention,” she said, “represents under-compensation or no compensation.”
Detention is just one item on an ambitious FMCSA agenda for 2014. “We had a busy year in 2013 and expect 2014 to be just as energized, just as productive and just as effective,” Ferro said. Within a weeks or months, the FMCSA expects to publish a supplemental notice of proposed rule-making on electronic logging devices and a proposed rule on a new safety fitness determination system grounded in data from its Compliance, Safety, Accountability initiative and a proposed rulemaking on a truck driver drug and alcohol testing clearinghouse.
“Will it be out in the next 30 days? That’s what my fingers are crossed for,” Ferro said in reference to the proposed rule that would mandate the use of electronic logging devices in all commercial motor vehicles where drivers now use paper logs.
In 2014, “we’ll continue to drive those initiatives forward,” Ferro said.
Driver detention has been in the FMCSA’s regulatory crosshairs some time now, as the agency advances a regulatory agenda based on changing driver behavior to reduce the number of truck crashes and related fatalities. “We need a real change in our transportation culture to recognize that safety means more than complying with safety rules. It means changing work-rest schedules that contribute to fatigue,” Ferro told the National Industrial Transportation League in November 2011.
With the CSA program firmly established, though still evolving, new hours of service rules in place and the proposed rule on electronic logging devices in the wings, a regulation attacking unnecessary detention moves higher on FMCSA’s to-do list.
The agency has been studying how detention affects driver safety, pay and compliance with hours of service rules since 2012. Detention, Ferro said at the TRB meeting, “is an area of not just inefficiency in the supply chain but inefficiency that is placed on the back of truckers and for which they are not compensated.”
Long waiting times at loading and unloading docks, shippers, consignees and terminals is a sore point for truck drivers and trucking companies of all types, from truckload carriers and long-haul drivers to port drayage truckers. Detention is often cited as a factor in debates over the driver shortage.
Driver detention costs the trucking industry as much as $4 billion a year in lost productivity, according to a 2009 Department of Transportation study. Truck drivers measure that lost productivity in hours spent waiting for trailers to be loaded or unloaded, the lost miles they could have been hauling with freight while waiting, and the money they’re not earning while waiting at a customer’s site.
Motor carriers often charge detention fees, and some of that money may be passed on to drivers to compensate them for lost time and wages, but a trucking company’s ability to impose a detention surcharge on a customer depends on market conditions and just how badly it needs that shipper’s freight. The situation gets more complicated when the company detaining a driver is the consignee.
Those issues, Ferro said, are driving the FMCSA toward research “that allows us to understand better the correlation between driver detention and safety outcomes and driver compensation and safety outcomes.” The FMCSA completed the first phase of its driver detention study and will issue a report soon, she said.
“We’re preparing the groundwork for phase two of that detention study, which will look more closely at the safety and operational impacts of detention time.”