Truck drivers lose an estimated $1,281 to $1,534 a year and put themselves at higher risk for crashes because of unexpected wait times on loading docks, according to results of a much-anticipated government report.
Collectively, detention time robs U.S. truckers of an estimated $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion in income annually, according to the report, which is based on a Department of Transportation office of inspector general audit.
Detention time is generally defined as the minutes or hours truckers wait beyond what they anticipate needing to load or unload freight. An industry rule of thumb often included in shipper contracts is anything over a two-hour wait is considered detention time.
Industrywide, driver detention time also reduces for-hire motor carriers’ yearly net income by $250.6 million to $302.9 million, according to the report.
In addition, even a 15-minute increase in dwell time, the combination of detention time and the time a driver actually spends loading or unloading, raises the likelihood they will be involved in a crash by 6.2 percent, according to the report.
Income losses and safety threats could be substantially higher than the estimates included in the report, according to analysis by the Transportation Department's inspector general and industry experts who reviewed the report for Trucks.com.
That’s because of the limited amount of data on driver detention time available for analysis, they said.
The conclusions are an important indicator of long-standing labor problems related to detention time, said Steve Viscelli, author of “The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream” and a sociologist and lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania.
“It gets to the original sin of the industry, which is drivers aren’t paid for their wait time and so their time is used inefficiently and it has effects on safety and income,” Viscelli said.
The audit was mandated by a 2015 transportation law that directed the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to issue regulations for collecting data on delays truckers experience during pickups and deliveries. The same law ordered the inspector general to report on detention time’s effects on drivers, carriers and the economy.
Obtaining an accurate read on detention time is difficult because most carriers and drivers measure only time spent at a shipper or receiver’s facility beyond the two-hour limit in many contracts. In addition, electronic data the industry collects don't distinguish between detention time and legitimate loading and unloading tasks. The data also are unavailable for a large segment of the industry, according to the report.
To come up with a better picture of industry practices related to detention time, the inspector general instead also analyzed research from other government and industry sources, performed its own simulations and interviewed industry associations and trucking carriers.
Pay lost to detention time represents 3 percent to 3.6 percent of drivers’ average annual income. That could be partially offset by detention-related fees that some carriers charge shippers, according to the report.
Detention Time Adds to Fatigue, Increasing Risks of Crashes
Detention time increases the likelihood of truck crashes because it eats into drivers’ available waking hours, which contributes to fatigue when they drive, according to Transportation Research Board data cited in the report. Delays also “cause frustration and reduced income and may contribute to dangerous behaviors such as speeding and violations of (hours of service) requirements,” according to the report.
An average 15-minute increase in dwell time results in one additional crash per 1,000 tractor-trailers or straight trucks on the road, according to the report.
Every additional 5 percent increase in stops where drivers are detained unexpectedly leads to an almost equal increase in expected crash rates, according to the report.
The one-to-one relationship “is huge,” said Michael H. Belzer, associate economics professor at Wayne State University and long-time chronicler of transportation industry labor issues.
“Given the fact that the top 20 percent of long-haul truck drivers work 75 hours a week or more, and given the likelihood that most of this excess labor time is detention time, this could be a really substantial risk,” Belzer said.
A top FMCSA administrator cautioned against reading too much into results of the audit given the limited data it was based on.
“It would be premature to draw any empirical conclusions about the impact of driver detention times on crash rates or driver incomes at this time,” FMCSA Deputy Administrator Cathy Gautreaux said in a statement published with the report.
The FMCSA plans to address the dearth of driver detention data by adding a reporting form to its website that drivers and carriers can use to voluntarily submit the information. It also plans to discuss the issue with industry groups, according to Gautreaux’s statement.
The agency set a deadline of Dec. 31, 2019, to complete both objectives.
FMCSA previously passed rules imposing fines on shippers that force drivers to violate hours-of-service limits and other safety regulations, Gautreaux said.
However, relying on truckers and carriers to voluntarily submit information won’t allow FMCSA to gauge how representative of the industry the data are until a large enough data set exists, according to the inspector general.
Ultimately, the safety agency could fail to accomplish the goal of advancing knowledge of the “frequency, length and effects of driver detention beyond what industry surveys of drivers already report,” the transportation agency inspector general stated in the report.
Truckers and carriers aren’t waiting for government regulators to address problems stemming from unexpected wait times. Some carriers dropped slowpoke shippers even before a mandate to switch to electronic logging devices took effect late last year.
ELDs digitally track driving to ensure that truckers comply with a federal hours-of-service rule. The rule limits driving to no more than 11 hours a day within a 14-hour workday. Drivers must then be off duty for 10 consecutive hours.
Other carriers have set up shipper-of-choice programs to prioritize working with preferred customers, presumably shippers that historically have not made their drivers wait.
Independent truckers, including owner-operators, also report sharing names of shippers with dispatchers or freight brokers to avoid making return visits.
Other industry data show evidence of widespread driver detentions.
In research conducted in 2016 by trucking data firm DAT Solutions, 63 percent of 257 carriers and owner-operators surveyed said they or their drivers spent more than three hours at a shipper’s dock waiting to load or unload.
In a separate survey, three-quarters of truckers who use ELDs from equipment maker Keep Truckin said they are detained for more than two hours per week.
Thirty-five percent of the company’s ELD users who experience regular delays said waits lasted more than six hours. The so-called “extended detention events” occur on average seven times a month, according to the survey.