Another detention study

April 4, 2017
Trucking is bombarded with reports. Isn’t it time for action?

Without dating myself too badly,  I can say that if you had asked me what “detention time” meant when I was in high school, my answer would be drastically different than it is today. 

Recently, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) concluded that it will be issuing a report in regard to the topic of driver detention, i.e.,  drivers being detained at a shipper’s facility or receiver’s dock for a length of time that generally would cause a disruption in their efforts to comply with the hours-of-service rules.

FMCSA issuing a report is nothing new; in fact, it happens all the time. The problem arises when that report is on the tail end of another report, which was on the tail end of a survey, which is on the tail end of yet another report, and so on. The problem with issuing all of these reports and surveys is that there are never any conclusions. My mind almost immediately wanders to Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity, “doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” 

As an industry, we should want to move the needle on these issues. We should want to put them behind us so that we can continue moving forward on innovative truck safety initiatives that motor carriers are implementing across the industry today. Yet problems such as detention time have bogged down this industry for years—without having an end in sight. 

The problem with detention time is that we are no longer speaking anecdotally about this issue.  The data is there.  It was there in 2001 when FMCSA issued the results of a study saying there was a “strong positive relationship” between the percent of time drivers spend loading and unloading and crash involvement.  The results were there 10 years later, in 2011, when the U.S. Government Accountability Office reported that 80% of drivers surveyed responded that detention time impacted their ability to comply with the hours-of-service regulations. 

Same story in 2014. FMCSA released a study stating that drivers for truckload carriers  are more likely to be detained than LTL carriers, and medium-sized carriers were twice as likely to be detained as larger carriers.  In fact, results from the study “indicate that drivers experienced detention time on about 1 in every 10 stops for an average duration of 1.4 hours. This represents the length of time the driver was detained beyond 2 hours; thus, he/she was physically at that delivery location for 3.4 hours in total.”

“The problem with issuing all of these reports is that there are never any conclusions.”

- David Heller, TCA vice president of government affairs

Adding more fuel to the fire, the results of these three studies/reports coupled with J.B. Hunt’s recent white paper citing their drivers’ average time of driving was 6.5 hours per day—on top of a survey conducted with DAT Solutions survey regarding this very same issue—points to the fact that everyone seems to be making a lot of noise about a very large issue. But there seems to be very little appetite to actually take action to correct a problem that is growing immensely except to throw another report into the mix. 

Drivers getting detained at a shipper on average of nearly three and a half hours can certainly be interpreted as a problem, and when you look at this issue holistically, it becomes just the tip of the iceberg.  Imagine a driver on site waiting for a load; finally, after a three-and-a-half-hour wait, the driver embarks on the planned trip only to encounter bad weather, awful traffic and a shortage of available hours because of these problems. Inevitably, this will lead to changes in the predetermined route because the available parking that was planned had there been no delays suddenly becomes a crapshoot. 

Trucking prides itself in being flexible, but there are preventive measures that could be taken to aid in developing a less burdensome workday for our drivers.  Being able to set times and schedules and adhere to that would go a long way in helping our drivers maximize their daily drive time rather than use many of their productive hours to wait.  It is important to note that drivers and carriers are only a part of the supply chain; those that ship and receive freight are a part as well.  

About the Author

David Heller

David Heller is the senior vice president of safety and government affairs for the Truckload Carriers Association. Heller has worked for TCA since 2005, initially as director of safety, and most recently as the VP of government affairs. Before that, he spent seven years as manager of safety programs for American Trucking Associations.

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