How to build a detention management process

Oct. 5, 2023
Detention is among the top problems facing drivers and fleets, occurring up to 60% of the time. McLeod developed these detention best practices after surveying large fleet companies that effectively manage detention.

Driver detention ranked as a top industry challenge, No. 4 for truck drivers and No. 6 industry-wide, according to the American Transportation Research Institute's 2023 Top Industry Issues Report. However, some fleets are successfully deploying strategies to combat this time-killing supply chain kink. 

Randal Sanchez, a solutions architect at McLeod Software, and his colleague, Kem Wallace, senior solutions architect at McLeod Software, recently surveyed large fleet companies that they felt had a "good handle" on detention management.

After analyzing the survey results, Sanchez said they were able to map out what they consider to be the best practices for detention management. The result is a detention management process with four categories: strategic—building a plan; tactical—executing the plan; event—analyzing challenges; and resolution—having everything in place to bill the customer and pay the driver.

See also: McLeod rolls out new offerings to improve workflow

Be strategic from the start

Wallace said the process starts with the sales department when contracting the freight. Detention time should be part of the contract negotiations with the customer. He advised fleets not to wait until there are problems with the customer's detention policies before sharing their own.

"Having this as part of your initial policies and procedures lets you have a leg up to make sure that there is no white elephant in the room in this particular situation," Wallace emphasized.

How to be strategic in detention management

 Contracting and pricing freight begins in the sales department.

  • Be sure to include the sales department in detention issues for repricing contracts and spot freight. 
  • Make detention a regular part of the contract discussions and negotiations with customers.

Be tactical when accepting and declining freight

Now that the fleet has decided upon and communicated its detention policies, the tactical side of detention management begins with load acceptance. It's crucial for customer service to have the flexibility to decline loads if necessary and negotiate contracts based on detention policies, Wallace said.

Wallace said fleets should realize that even if a load was rejected, remediation might be necessary to avoid a repeat rejection with a shipper. When a load is accepted, if a detention problem is expected, there should be clear communication between the driver and dispatch to reduce detention. Some of the companies Wallace and Sanchez interviewed found the key to success in detention management was involving drivers in planning and execution. 

Monitoring also helps manage detention. Wallace said the fleets surveyed had real-time monitoring software integrated into their fleet vehicles, but they also relied on communication with the driver to get additional information. Fleets that monitor their vehicles and rely on first-hand information from their drivers will then have more time to notify or warn a customer of detention risks.

How to be tactical in a detention strategy

Load acceptance 

  • Allow customer service discretion on accepting loads/lanes. 
  • Don't be afraid to ask for a surcharge or accessorial on spot loads outside of contracted lanes. 
  • Use your rules or the customer's rules so the customer knows what you'll accept. 

Rejecting loads 

  • Discover the impact of a rejected load. 
  • Escalate the problem.
  • Offer detailed reasons for the rejections.
  • Negotiate when possible: reschedule for a less busy time or modify the pickup date.


  • Loads at risk for detention should have clear indications in the planner.
  • Drivers should be given good visibility to loads that have a higher risk for detention.
  • Consider employing someone whose primary responsibility is detention resolution.

Real-time monitoring and detention 

  • When possible, monitor all shipments.
  • Drivers are the best eyes and ears when something is wrong before it occurs.
  • Open communication between the driver and manager allows the manager to make notes in the system for future planning.

Detention warnings to the customer 

  • Notify multiple parties (such as a controlling party) to ensure better resolution results.
  • Include hourly detention rates in the notice(s).
  • Communication via email is often used.
  • Repeated warnings have been shown to be counterproductive.

Create clear detention event procedures for drivers

When detention events occur, Wallace said the first step to take is to review the requirements and policies in place by the customer and then notify all parties involved. Additionally, some companies require fleet drivers to complete onerous paperwork without clear procedures. Wallace said that because of this, they found that some companies couldn't be billed because the driver filled out paperwork incorrectly.

See also: The detention time toll deserves a solution

To mitigate this, Sanchez and Wallace suggest fleets provide those rules and procedures to every driver so they can easily access them. Once the paperwork has been filed, Wallace said many companies appointed operations staff to update the order, such as making resolution notes, before sending it to the billing department.

How to handle a detention event when it occurs

When an event occurs:

  • Review customer requirements.
  • Notify customers and third parties.
  • Make sure the driver knows what to include in the paperwork.
  • Have automation available to help meet paperwork requirements.
  • Appoint an individual responsible for ensuring all operations are followed.

Approval documentation 

  • The billing department is responsible for ensuring detention is qualified, notified, and the driver will be paid.

Follow detention billing through to resolution

Once the detention event has gone to billing, it's time to get paid. Most of the fleets Sanchez and Wallace surveyed said they bill detention as an accessorial. However, Wallace said there were cases when some companies permitted a separate invoice. 

The companies Wallace and Sanchez surveyed consistently paid their drivers for detention. When the drivers were paid varied, however, based on how well they followed the fleet's policies and procedures.

How to resolve a detention event

Customer invoicing 

  • Detention is normally included along the freight and other accessorial on the invoice.
  • Separate invoices are allowed but rarely necessary.

Driver pay 

  • Driver must follow guidelines to be paid. 
  • Time calculations parallel the customers' rules. 
  • Drivers should be paid regardless of whether the customers pay.
  • Having a process in place ensures you're not paying your driver out of your own pocket.

See also: FMCSA provides updates to driver compensation, detention time studies

Develop a process that works

Detention is a problem facing truck drivers regularly, and Wallace said it has occurred in more than 60% of the fleets surveyed. In reviewing the data, Sanchez noted that those detention events significantly impact the fleet company in ways that many are unaware of. Develop detention management processes that work for the fleet, the customer, and the driver by involving all areas of the business, including customers.

About the Author

Jade Brasher

Senior Editor Jade Brasher has covered vocational trucking and fleets for the past five years. A graduate of The University of Alabama with a degree in journalism, Jade enjoys telling stories about the people behind the wheel and the intricate processes of the ever-evolving trucking industry.    

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