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Hurry up and wait: DOT report on driver detention is D.O.A.

In spite of a sea change in technology, the US DOT report released Jan. 31st, says the costs of rigorous data collection and analysis would likely outweigh the benefit. Instead, they provide a lot of data from 2013-2014. ( Photo: Shutterstock )

Imagine you’re a freelancer. You spend part of your unpaid working time hustling for work. You find some options from the places that you’ve done work before. You spend more unpaid time contacting the company, taking the assignment, and accepting the terms. You’re given a tight window to execute your deadline. You drop everything, say goodbye to your family, and head out on the road to do your research – the only way to meet the deadline in time. You are good at what you do, and you nail the assignment in spite of unpredictable weather and traffic congestion. Finally, when you get to the end point and you’re ready to deliver the work you’ve done, you’re told to wait.

Not only wait, but wait without being paid. You don’t know how long you’re going to wait. Oh, and while you’re waiting, you have another assignment come up with another tight window. The minutes become hours. Getting angry isn’t going to do any good. You’re completely powerless to speed things up, no matter how good you are at your job. When the powers-that-be finally get it together and allow you to simply deliver the product you’ve been assigned, your window to meet your next job is even tighter – next to impossible unless you really hammer down.

But it’s your job. This is what you do, and hammering down is how you make things work. So you bust it meeting the next deadline. And again, you’re held up.

The above scenario may not parallel exactly what a truck driver goes through – it’s actually considerably more complicated – but it illustrates a fundamental point that truckers have been rightfully complaining about for years on end. They call it detention. For most people, detention meant getting in trouble in school and having to stay after an extra hour. For truckers, it’s a career experience. And people wonder why the trucker turnover rate is so high?

There’s been a lot of talk about how ELDs are helping to help onboard a lot more than just safety regulation. In fact, in terms of safety ELDs may have the opposite effect. As many have argued, the rigid 14 hours-of-service rule doesn’t exactly encourage taking a break when a driver is tired. The break comes on your own time; the clock doesn’t stop. But that’s another story.

Meanwhile, ELDs are going to have another, albeit indirect, impact on the industry. The ELD mandate that’s now been in effect since December 18 (although hard enforcement won’t happen until April) should soon prove to be a transformative cultural and technological change on the industry. The transparency in the supply chain is going to become painfully obvious where inefficiencies occur.

A government report came out two days ago that (inadvertently) highlights the need for this advancement in technology. One of the US DOT’s summary findings reads as follows:

“Accurate industry-wide data on driver detention do not currently exist because most industry stakeholders measure only time spent at a shipper or receiver’s facility beyond the limit established in shipping contracts. Available electronic data cannot readily discern detention time from legitimate loading and unloading tasks, and are unavailable for a large segment of the industry.”

It becomes clear that the self-evaluations of drivers through agencies such as ATRI or OOIDA, or even through the FMCSA, are antiquated in light of the emerging technologies. Expectations for increased speed, transparency, and overall efficiency have raised dramatically and rightfully so. If you now have to pay the price of rigid new guidelines as a result of adopting new technology that tracks you’re every move, why aren’t we already seeing the results of the data across the supply chain?

David Heller, Vice President of Government Affairs for Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), certainly thinks so. Heller is surprised by the report, saying:

“Here we are, February 2018, roughly a month and half into a mandate that one could say has had the most dramatic effect on the trucking industry since the last issuance of the Hours of Service Regulations and the report, its preamble and general content fails to acknowledge the existence of a device that accurately measures the productivity of drivers across the trucking industry.  Even more surprising is the insistence that ‘the costs of rigorous data collection and analysis would likely outweigh the benefit’. 

“With over 200 compliant devices designed to the specifications that the agency has prescribed, perhaps a simple inquiry with these ELD manufacturers and their corresponding carriers, would contradict that very statement. A simple ask to a carrier or ELD provider would most likely render data in a usable format that not only could identify detention time, but most likely determine who the main culprits are.  

“Remember, through another study on detention time in December of 2014 titled ‘Driver Detention Times in Commercial Motor Vehicle Operations’, the study derived an acceptable standard for detention was 2 hours, yet our industry showed that drivers are detained roughly 1.4 hours longer than what was deemed acceptable. Isn’t this enough of a very basis in which our industry can now use an ELD to collect the very data we are asking for at a cost that most likely would be minimal in nature?”

Surely, a sea change is coming, just apparently there first will be more waiting. Change is coming if not because truckers themselves are able to access the appropriate data points and compile it in meaningful, actionable ways, but because at least the current report is realizing the danger of unreasonable detention (on average considered longer than two-hours according to the report), leads to significant safety issues:

“We estimated that a 15-minute increase in average dwell time — the total time spent by a truck at a facility — increases the average expected crash rate by 6.2 percent. In addition, we estimated that detention is associated with reductions in annual earnings of $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion for for-hire commercial motor vehicle drivers in the truckload sector. For motor carriers in that sector, we estimated that detention reduces net income by $250.6 million to $302.9 million annually.”

The driver shortage is an economic problem, not a labor one — there are plenty who would be willing to do a job with reasonable pay based upon the work involved. It mainly persists because long-haul truckers who get paid by the mile don’t make enough to stay in a job that puts them on the road for weeks at a time, and so they quit, creating enormous turnover. 

As Dean Croke, CAO of FreightWaves, says, “Trucking is always competing with comparable industries,” and when those other industries offer even similar benefits to those in trucking, the choice is easy. Stay where you are and keep a home life.

Shippers currently lack real incentive to speed up the process other than by marginally decreasing their costs by increasing their turn rate. This report doesn’t help move the needle much. But sooner or later real pressure will be applied when truckers — possibly joined by fleets and owner-operators — will demand the dignity of compensation for their lost time and wages. 

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