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There are steps fleet managers can take to mitigate the problem of detention.

Clark: Detention is the bane of drivers and fleets

March 25, 2024
There are a number of steps fleet managers can take to mitigate the problem of detention.

The primary goal of fleets and drivers is getting their product to its destination and loading or unloading it safely and on time. But there are challenges to achieving that goal, some occurring before they reach their destination and others after they have arrived.

Drivers have to contend with traffic congestion (whether due to regular traffic on major highways, accidents, or infrastructure repairs), severe weather conditions, breakdowns, and changing regulations. The delays that occur before the vehicle arrives at its destination create a domino effect that impacts the entire supply chain, affecting resource allocation, increasing operational costs, and endangering customer relationships.

What makes this situation worse is when drivers finally arrive at their destination, they face delays that can last for hours. Few things can be more exasperating for a driver (and for the company) than to have a truck arrive at its destination on time for pickup or delivery, but then have to wait—sometimes for extended hours—to complete the task. It's important to remember that the industry and regulators consider two hours as an appropriate amount of time to load and/or unload (dwell time). Any amount of time beyond that would be classified as detention.

For drivers who need to comply with HOS, long detention can mean a driver runs out of legal driving hours. The driver loses money and time, and so does his company. Back in 2019, when ATRI did a study on driver detention, they found that “drivers reported a 27.4% increase in delays of six or more hours.” In addition, the report notes that “there was a nearly 40% increase in drivers who reported that most of their pickups and deliveries were delayed over the past 12 months due to customer actions.”

This problem continues to pose considerable challenges for both drivers and carriers. That’s why the Federal Registry recently posted a request for comments from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration for a proposed information collection entitled Impact of Driver Detention Time on Safety and Operations. Still asking for additional comments, FMCSA hopes the final report will reflect the opinions of 80 carriers and 2,500 drivers. We look forward to seeing that report when it’s complete.

See also: ATRI issues call for motor carriers and owner-operators to participate in detention survey

Steps fleet managers can take to mitigate the problem

The causes of detention vary, ranging from poor scheduling on the part of the warehouse, resulting in too many vehicles waiting to load or unload at the same time, to severe understaffing. Since fleet managers have little control over these situations, there is a limit to what can be done. However, there are steps fleet managers can take to mitigate the effects.

  • Negotiate agreements: Discuss detention policies with shippers and receivers before entering into contracts. Outline the company expectations for loading and unloading times, and negotiate compensation for drivers when delays are considerably longer.
  • Invest in tracking technology tools: Real-time tracking tools, along with communication tools, will give fleet managers and dispatchers the ability to know where each vehicle is located and whether it will meet their allotted times. As fleets monitor the progress (or lack thereof) of the truck and communicate with drivers, they’ll be able to make necessary adjustments in resources.
  • Analyze data: The data will identify which facilities seem to have recurring problems when it comes to detention. Once this is known, the information can be used to build flexibility into schedules and be better prepared in the future. Consider using this data in future contract negotiations.
  • Keep communication lines open: From the shipper to the receiver to the driver, everyone needs to know what is happening. Drivers need to be informed of any schedule changes as far in advance as possible.

The reality is that detention time results in lost revenue for many drivers and carriers. Lowering that timeframe can lead to a reduction in costs for carriers, an increase in driver pay, and an improvement in the driver’s ability to make deliveries without violating HOS. When drivers know they’ll be able to complete their tasks while still complying with HOS, this could lead to safer driving—something that every carrier supports.

Fleet managers have their work cut out for them when it comes to detention, but those fleets that are proactive and can adapt and innovate will be able to mitigate the damage and thrive.

About the Author

Jane Clark | Senior VP of Operations

Jane Clark is Senior Vice President, Operations for NationaLease. Prior to joining NationaLease, Jane served as Area Vice President for Randstad, one of the nation’s largest recruitment agencies, and before that, she served in management posts with QPS Companies, Pro Staff, and Manpower, Inc.

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