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From detention to retention

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By David Heller, Vice President of Government Affairs, Truckload Carriers Association

Detention time is certainly not a new issue, but recent developments, particularly the advent of the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate, are giving the trucking industry more data and ammunition to accomplish positive change. After several years of releasing reports on detention time, in January 2018, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Office of Inspector General issued a report stating that a mere 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.” Using 2013 data, this figure represents an additional 6,509 crashes. The report also affirms that drivers and motor carriers may earn less if they experience detention time at a shipper. 

While this conclusion is vindicating for the industry, the problem with issuing reports and surveys is that a true conclusion is very rarely reached. As Einstein is credited with saying, the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” We, as an industry, should want to move the needle on these issues, 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. Problems such as detention time have bogged down this industry for years without an end in sight. 

In the past, there was criticism that this was an anecdotal issue. In 2001, 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. Ten years later, in 2011, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported that 80% of drivers surveyed responded that detention time impacted their ability to comply with the hours of service regulations. In 2014, FMCSA released a study that truckload drivers are more likely to be detained than less than truckload (LTL), and medium sized carriers were twice as likely to be detained as larger carriers. In fact, results from that study, “indicate that drivers experienced detention time on approximately 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 results of these reports, coupled with JB Hunt’s white paper citing their driver’s average time of driving as only 6.5 hours per day, clearly laid the groundwork for change. Yet there has been very little appetite to actually take action to correct this problem. 

Imagine a driver detained at a facility as he or she waits to get loaded. 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 all these problems. Inevitably, this will lead to changes in the predetermined route and trouble finding parking spaces which would have been there if the driver had made it to the destination on time. Obviously, trucking prides itself in its flexibility, but there are preventative measures that could be taken to develop a less burdensome workday. Being able to set times and schedules and adhere to them would go a long way in helping drivers maximize their daily drive time rather use many of their productive hours sitting and waiting. It is important to note that drivers and carriers are only parts of the supply chain, and those that ship and receive freight must be part of the solution as well.

Thanks to ELD data, we can pinpoint, down to the dock door, where detention time is happening at shipping facilities and carriers can demand change. Drivers will no longer feel that no one is listening to them, as their employers can now verify the detention claims and actually hold shippers accountable. Washington will no longer be able to claim that there is not enough data to make necessary changes to legislation and regulations. And most importantly, the industry can start to work toward solving critical problems like driver retention by proactively moving forward to eradicate one of the major causes of driver dissatisfaction.

Chris Henry

Chris Henry has spent his entire 20-year career in transportation. In 2014, he founded the online motor carrier benchmarking service StakUp. As a result of a partnership with the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) in 2015, StakUp was rebranded as inGauge and Henry became the program manager for the TCA Profitability Program (TPP), an exclusive benchmarking initiative that includes more than 230 motor carrier participants throughout North America. Since joining the program, participation in TPP has grown over 300%. In June 2019, StakUp was acquired by FreightWaves and Henry became its vice president of carrier profitability, in addition to his role with TPP. Henry earned an MBA from the University of Massachusetts and a bachelor of commerce degree from Nipissing University.