Truck driver detention increases crash risk, pay loss, industry inefficiency

by Jeff Della Rosa (JDellaRosa@nwabj.com) 805 views 

Driver detention has become a $1 billion problem for the trucking industry, and industry executives recently discussed how carriers are coping with the issue and provided some solutions to it.

A recent webinar on driver detention included David Heller, vice president of government affairs for Truckload Carriers Association, John Coppens, vice president of operations for Little Rock-based carrier Maverick Transportation and Zach Strickland, market analyst for FreightWaves.

Drivers in markets such as Los Angeles wasted 12% more time because of longer wait times and only so many docks and workers to handle the surge in freight, said Strickland, adding that “they get stuck at a warehouse, and it’s essentially money out of their pocket.

“That is not an easy situation to manage, specifically, when the market turns up like that because it does two things,” he said. “It puts the carrier in the situation where there’s so much freight moving into an area that they’re going to have to have longer wait times as the market surges with volume because the shippers have so many docks that they can operate under. They’re not able to take in more employees really fast, more dock space extremely fast. They can’t scale up fast enough to manage these surges.”

Now, they have started to catch up, but as the market has slowed from 2018, they are ready for a surge that had already happened, Strickland said. Last year, the average load paid $2.03 per mile at peak, the average length of haul was 550 miles and a truck could transport nearly four loads per week. He explained that trucks operating in ideal conditions have the opportunity to haul at least one more load, or $141 per truck per week. This was not solely related to driver detention but shows the inefficiency in the existing freight market, he said. Carriers with a long-term strategy to improve detention issues can make an impact on their earnings.

Heller said stories of driver detention have been around for years, but data has started to become available to corroborate the anecdotes. He cited a white paper on detention by Lowell-based carrier J.B. Hunt Transport Services, and it showed drivers are driving more than six hours per day and included solutions to the problems, such as allow for flexible appointment times, increase the speed of loading and unloading, offer on-site driver accommodation and parking and allow for drop and hook. If these solutions were implemented, it would allow the driver to potentially gain more than 44,000 miles per year.

He also discussed several federal studies related to safety and driver detention. A 2001 study from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration showed longer load times led to increased driver fatigue. A 2011 report from the Government Accountability Office shows 80% of drivers said detention impacts their ability to comply with hours of service. In December 2014, the industry standard detention time was two hours, but a Virginia Tech study showed drivers were being detained for an average of more than three hours. The Office of Inspector General in January 2018 reported that detention increased crash risk and cost. It also leads to a $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion reduction in annual earnings across the trucking industry and decreases net income for carriers between $250.6 million and $302.9 million annually.

The biggest issue with driver detention has been carriers communicating with the customer that they might be wrong, Heller said. He also listed a few of the top industry issues, including driver retention, and how this would be impacted if drivers weren’t being detained so much. Other topics that could impact driver detention, including sleeper berth flexibility, electronic logging device data and infrastructure improvements.

The sleeper berth flexibility is part of proposed changes to the hours-of-service rule, and the recent announcement that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will no longer complete a sleeper berth pilot program is good news because it would have delayed the decision on whether to change the rule, Heller said. He also expects productive conversations on infrastructure improvements sometime this spring.

Coppens described tools Maverick uses to receive driver feedback on shippers and how the carrier follows up with drivers on the feedback. The company has a website for its drivers allowing them to see other issues and their outcomes. He shared some feedback on drivers that were detained at sites without restrooms and were not treated respectfully, but other sites had coffee, fruit, snacks and were respectful.

Maverick offers dentition pay to drivers based on a wait time of two hours, said Coppens, adding that detention not only leads to crashes but also to turnover.

“Driver turnover being what it is, you can die by those thousand little cuts,” he said. “This is a big one we deal with on a regular basis.”

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