Truck driver detention at shipper docks is a widespread problem, but not everyone views the problem with the same urgency, according to a survey of motor carriers and brokers.
A solid majority of carriers and owner-operators — nearly 63 percent — surveyed by DAT Solutions said they or their drivers had been detained at shipper or consignee docks more than three hours. Fifty-four percent of the truckers reported detention times of three to four hours, while 9 percent said it was common for drivers to be detained five hours or more.
Detention was ranked as one of the five leading business problems by 84 percent of the 257 carriers surveyed, including trucking companies and owner-operators. However, while most of the 50 brokers surveyed acknowledged detention as a problem, only about 20 percent saw it as a major challenge for their business.
That perception may change if federal regulators continue moving toward a rulemaking that holds shippers and perhaps third-party brokers responsible for excessive detention times on the grounds that delaying drivers affects safety and makes truck crashes more likely.
Last month, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration launched an audit focused on loading and unloading delays at shipper and consignee docks. The audit, required by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015, will collect information on measuring the potential effects of detention on truck driver fatigue and crash risks for use in a future rulemaking.
Brokers, the DAT survey indicates, may not be aware their carriers are being detained. Most said their carriers’ drivers were being detained less than 30 percent of the time. The majority of brokers said carriers complain about the detention practices of “some” or “few” shippers.
Truckers and brokers can use surcharges to recoup some of the money lost to detention from shippers, but those surcharges can be hard to collect, especially for smaller companies and especially in a time when freight demand is soft and truck capacity is readily available.
Only 3 percent of the trucking companies and owner-operators surveyed said they were paid on 90 percent or more of their detention claims, and those claims didn’t begin to cover the “opportunity” costs of driver hours and business lost because of dockside delays, DAT said.
One owner-operator surveyed by DAT reported losing two loads, with combined revenue of $1,900, because his truck was detained too long at a receiver’s dock. The survey found the typical claim pays only $30 to $50 per hour of detention time, when a claim is paid.
The FMCSA is concerned that excessive detention time may increase driver fatigue and encourage drivers to violate hours-of-service rules in order to get to a parking spot or a new load. The end result is not just lost money but unsafe behavior leading to accidents.
The FMCSA actually has been studying driver detention, or loading and unloading times, for more than a decade, starting with a 2001 study that found a “strong positive relationship” between the amount of time spent loading and unloading and crash involvement.
An FMCSA study conducted in 2012 and 2013 and released in 2014 found drivers were detained in one of every 10 stops for an average time of 1.4 hours beyond a two-hour limit. Detention time is often defined as any loading and unloading time beyond two hours.
The FMCSA study of more than 1 million stops, conducted by the Virginia Technical Transportation Institute, found medium-sized carriers were detained more often than large carriers, with nearly 20 percent of stops including some detention time, rather than 10 percent.
The 2015 FAST Act directed the agency to “issue regulations that cover collection of data on loading and unloading delays,” and to report on the impact of such delays, the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General’s Office said in a June 15 memorandum.
“Driver detention is an urgent issue that must be addressed by our industry,” Don Thornton, senior vice president at DAT Solutions, said in a statement. “It’s a matter of fairness,” he said. If shippers, carriers and brokers don’t address the issue, regulators almost certainly will.