Detention re-enters US truck driver work rules debate

Detention re-enters US truck driver work rules debate

Trucks travel on a road in New Jersey, United States.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration should take “further action” to decrease detention times across the trucking industry, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association said in comments on proposed changes to truck driver hours-of-service rules. Photo credit: Hugh R. Morley.

US regulators should be as concerned about the time truck drivers spend waiting at shipper docks as they are about the time they spend behind the wheel, an owner-operator group says, arguing detention has a direct impact on driver wages and well-being and highway safety.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) should take “further action” to decrease detention times across the trucking industry, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) said in comments on proposed changes to truck driver hours-of-service (HOS) rules.

Shippers would be smart to get out ahead of any potential rulemaking by working with carriers and consignees to limit detention time as much as possible and keep drivers on the road.

FMCSA considering changes

OOIDA, in its comments, reinserted the detention issue into the debate over driver hours, fatigue, and safety. The FMCSA is considering changes to the HOS rules that could give truck drivers more flexibility in managing their daily and weekly schedules.

The agency asked for comment on proposed changes that would expand the short-haul HOS limit, the HOS exception for adverse driving conditions, potentially revise the 30-minute break, and allow drivers to split mandatory 10-hour rest time spent in a truck’s sleeper berth.

Those changes, which OOIDA mostly favors, are a step in the right direction, and may lessen a driver’s exposure to detention time, the association said. But the trucking group wants regulators to address detention time — and shippers guilty of the practice — directly.

“The time that a driver is not paid while he or she waits to be loaded or unloaded is another issue of primary concern for OOIDA members,” the association said, claiming truck drivers spend between 11 and 20 hours a week on average waiting to be loaded or unloaded.

“The unproductive hours when the truck is not moving can be costly for an owner-operator’s bottom line, especially for the 22 percent of OOIDA members who stated that they do not collect any detention time pay” from shippers or carriers they work with, the organization said.

FMCSA research on detention

The FMCSA has studied driver detention by shippers and consignees for more than a decade, but last year an FMCSA official told the Transportation Research Board the issue should be tackled directly by carriers, shippers, and brokers, rather than through regulation.

Truck driver detention “is something carriers and shippers can address in many ways,” Robert Miller, director of the policy, strategic planning, and regulation at the FMCSA, said during a presentation on the truck safety agency’s regulatory priorities in 2017.

Driver detention is becoming an even more heated topic for shippers, brokers, and carriers as the use of electronic logging devices (ELDs) becomes prevalent. With the ELD, drivers and their employers have a digital record of the hours spent at a shipper or receiver dock.

Increasingly, trucking companies are using that data to fight excessive detention of their drivers and to support detention charges, rate increases, and the decision to drop a shipper customer who won’t change practices or talk to a consignee to speed drivers return to the road.

“People need to know data is more available to us than ever before in real-time about what’s happening at [shipper] facilities across America,” Derek Leathers, president and CEO of truckload carrier Werner Enterprises, said at the recent Transform 2018 Technology Executive Summit in Chicago.

“We’ve taken all that data and displayed it on a heat map of the US while our customers were in the room,” Leathers said. “That is live data based on driver feedback and it really sends a message back to customers on who’s winning and losing on being a shipper of choice.”

During her tenure at the agency, former FMCSA administrator Anne S. Ferro laid the groundwork for a detention rulemaking, arguing that drivers “operate under extreme stress and they operate, frankly, in some cases with extreme disrespect when it comes to detention time.”

Dwell time and the crash rate

The 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act directed the FMCSA and Department of Transportation (DOT) to collect data on loading and unloading delays, and to report on the impact of such delays. The DOT Office of Inspector General (OIG) released that report in January 2018.

OOIDA leaned on that report in its comments and used it to establish a link between detention and highway safety. The DOT OIG said a 15-minute increase in average dwell time per driver at shipper or consignee docks increases the average expected crash rate by 6.2 percent.

That would raise the US crash rate per 100 power units from 1.56 to 1.66, the DOT OIG said. The inspector general found detention time may collectively cost truck drivers $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion a year, cutting individual earnings by as much as 3.6 percent.

The OIG estimated detention time may reduce annual earnings for truck drivers by $1,281 to $1,534 per year, although some of that loss may be offset by detention fees paid by shippers to carriers. The total cost of detention tops $1 billion, the DOT inspector general’s office said.

Whether OOIDA’s call for detention action is answered or not, the topic isn’t going away. A survey of owner-operators by DAT Solutions early this year found more than 77 percent said it still takes more than two hours to get shippers and consignees to load or unload trucks.

Those businesses may find it increasingly difficult to get trucks and drivers at any rate. For shippers, the most difficult problem may be working with consignee customers whose warehouses are notorious for driver detention — especially in the grocery business.

Contact William B. Cassidy at bill.cassidy@ihsmarkit.com and follow him on Twitter: @willbcassidy.