We have all heard the news and read the industry press articles heralding the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021 as a boon for trucking. After months of depressed activity due to the coronavirus pandemic and resulting economic crisis, everyone is thrilled by the bounce back this industry is currently experiencing. Those who deliver freight now have the market power, as evidenced by high spot market and outbound tender volume rates. Demand is high, and therefore carriers are better able to dictate the terms of delivery.
With this market power, it is less likely that drivers are being detained waiting to load or unload their cargo. Detention time has been a perennial thorn in the side of the truckload industry, as it represents wasted hours and lower revenue. Now, with capacity as tight as it is, shippers will feel the pinch if they make drivers wait unnecessarily for their appointments. Carriers will be able to say, “enough is enough,” and take their trucks elsewhere, to a shipper which needs the capacity and also treats drivers with more respect.
This new dynamic presents an interesting consideration for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) proposed pilot program to study whether a 3-hour pause should be added to the hours-of-service (HOS) regulations. This pause would give drivers the option of taking a single off-duty break of between 30 minutes and three consecutive hours, which would be excluded from the 14-hour driving window provided the driver takes at least 10 consecutive hours off-duty at the end of the work shift. This would provide more flexibility than is allowed under the current rules and could allow drivers to take an off-duty break without fear of exhausting their available hours under the 14-hour clock. FMCSA notes this could also give drivers a way to obtain additional rest or avoid traffic congestion.
While this proposal was initially considered as a part of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on HOS, issued on August 22, 2019, it was not included in the Agency’s Final Rule which went into effect on September 29, 2020. FMCSA claimed that concern over detention time was the main reason for this exclusion. In the public response to the NPRM, many commenters stated their belief that drivers would be pressured to use the break to cover detention time, suggesting the 3-hour pause could have unintended consequences.
As FMCSA moves forward with this pilot program, we are curious whether the current freight market will present an accurate environment in which to study detention time. It is important to note that the pilot program has not yet started, and that it is expected to last for three years, a time period for which it is impossible to predict how the economy will change. However, it is our hope that the trends for trucking remain strong and that the threat of detention time can be put behind us for good.