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As detention mounts, drivers still searching for a solution

According to research, detention delays of between 3 and 4 hours is common, but often smaller fleets are at a loss to collect penalties associated with that detention. (Photo: Shutterstock)

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Every truck driver has lived through it, and most do it on a regular basis. According to data compiled by DAT, 63% of drivers spend more than 3 hours waiting to be loaded or unloaded while at a shipper’s dock. Detention times of between 3 and 4 hours are typical, reported 54% of drivers, and 9% said 5 hour waits or longer were common.

Detention is an issue for the industry, particularly for the truck drivers who must sit and wait and are still expected to make deliveries on time. According to KeepTruckin, drivers who are detained at a shipper or receiver facility for an “extended detention event” of at least 2 hours drive an average of 3.5 mph faster once leaving the facility in an effort to make up for lost time. Seventy-five percent of drivers suffer such an event as least once a week and 35% must wait at least 6 hours once a week on average. In all, drivers are faced with seven extended detention events per month, the firm reports.

So, we all know detention is a problem - at least from the perspective of the drivers and carriers. Brokers, though, have a different perspective. That 2016 DAT survey found that just 20% of brokers believe detention is among their five biggest problems while 84% of carriers said it belonged in the top 5.

In the “old days,” i.e. pre-Dec. 17, 2017, drivers who suffered through detention events felt pressured to alter their paper logs and keep driving to make up for lost time. In the new world of electronic logging devices (ELDs), that can’t happen, but detention still does.

Chad Boblett, owner and driver of Boblett Brothers Trucking and founder of the Rate Per Mile Masters group on Facebook, recently addressed the issue of detention in a DAT blog posting.

“I am so hoping that 2018 will be the year when detention policies and practices change,” he wrote. “Some amount of detention may be unavoidable, and the broker can’t always influence what happens at the shipper’s or receiver’s dock. But carriers and drivers can still ask for fair treatment, including fair compensation for long delays.”

The question becomes what is “fair compensation” and how can a driver or carrier be sure they receive it? The second part is still a mystery to many, especially small fleets and owner-operators without the leverage to play against a larger shipper. Social media is filled with drivers who say they just leave if they don’t get the detention pay and stories of companies that refuse to deliver the load. How effective these strategies are is difficult to tell, but it can work.

Most larger fleets have policies in place regarding detention, a practice that smaller fleets can follow. For instance, Werner Enterprises has written policies that must be followed for anyone working a Werner Logistics load. These policies include notifying Werner 60 minutes “prior to the free time expiration period so Werner Logistics can notify the customer of a potential detention situation.” The carrier must also provide scheduled appointment time, driver arrival time, driver unload time, number of hours of detention and detention charges. In general, Werner considers 2 hours of “free time” before detention begins accruing, although that is contingent on the shipper, the company notes.

While policies are nice, the real question is compensation. Unfortunately, there is little a small carrier can do short of declining a load to get paid detention. Even when detention policies are written into a contract, a larger shipper can simply refuse to pay, forcing the smaller operator to either forgo the charge or file a claim. Claims cost money and many smaller carriers will simply skip that, instead just refusing to haul for that shipper again.

The first step to collecting detention pay remains a written contract. Hauling contracts should include provisions for detention pay as it will provide a legal standing for you to collect the penalty. Detention fees per hour should be specified. According to Boblett’s DAT blog post, the industry standard is 2 hours of unpaid time followed by $50 per hour. Some reports suggest detention can be charged at $75 per hour or more, or perhaps even a flat fleet for up to 4 hours.

The good news on the detention front is actually related to those pesky ELDs that so many drivers hate. ELD devices also provides GPS location data and that data can be used to pressure the shipper to pay detention. With paper logs, shippers would argue that the driver didn’t arrive on time causing a backup loading trailers that resulted in the detention – a situation created by the driver and not the shipper, they’d argue. With GPS location data available (fleets that use trailer tracking technology have the same opportunity), a fleet can prove its driver arrived on time and it was the shipper that was not ready.

Boblett added a few other tips to help drivers, especially owner-operators, get paid for their time.

“As an owner-operator, I have some control over my choice of loads,” he wrote. “I want to avoid detention as much as possible, so I can make the best use of my time. I make a point to always talk with the broker about detention, whether or not I expect to need it. Ask for specific pick and drop times. If the broker says 'first come, first served’ it means the customer does not pay detention. You could be in for some extended, unpaid waiting time.”

He also advises reading reviews on the shippers and/or brokers and negotiate the rate you want for the load and include detention pay rate and terms in the contract. “If the broker refuses to do this, consider it a warning sign, and move on to another load,” he advised.

In 2016, the Department of Transportation began collecting data on detention time and in late January of this year, the department published some results. While DOT found every “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.”

Despite this, DOT failed to acknowledge that ELDs are among the technologies available that can accurately assess detention time, instead saying that detention can’t be tracked.

“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,” DOT said in the report.

The report noted that drivers face an average annual pay loss of $1,281 and $1,534 per year due to detention.

So while DOT drags its feet on detention, carriers are left to fight for the value of their time.

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