More than 60 percent of commercial truck drivers are forced to wait longer than expected on a freight dock while their trailers are loaded or unloaded, wasting precious travel time and causing friction in the trucking supply chain, according to results of a survey released today by an industry consultancy.
The survey, conducted by Portland, Ore.-based DAT Solutions LLC, also found a disconnect between the impact of "driver detention" on motor carriers and on the freight brokers who tender loads to carriers on behalf of their shipper customers. Of 257 motor carriers surveyed, 84 percent said driver detention is one of the top five problems they face. By contrast, among the 50 freight brokers responding, just 20 percent said detention was among the top five of their daily headaches.
According to the survey, 54 percent of drivers said they regularly wait between three to four hours for the work to be finished, while 9 percent said it's typical to wait as long as five hours. Only 3 percent of carriers responding said their drivers were reimbursed on the bulk of their detention claims. More than half said they were paid at no more than $30 an hour for waiting beyond the normal two-hour free grace period that a carrier grants a shipper or consignee to load or unload the trailer. It is rare for carriers to be paid at an hourly rate of more than $50, the study found. Current reimbursement levels are inadequate to cover a driver's opportunity costs of missing out on future loads while being delayed at a dock, according to the survey.
About two-thirds of brokers said they paid drivers for lost time only when they collected detention fees from the shipper or consignees. The remaining one-third paid detention fees after drivers complained. However, detention was an issue that carriers only "sometimes" complained about, the brokers said, adding that the carrier complaints centered on the actions of a few shippers, not most of them.
The survey did not address whether drivers are detained more frequently at a shipper's or a receiver's dock, though it is believed that detention is a problem at both. The survey also did not determine whether the problem was more prevalent among truckload or less-than-truckload (LTL) carriers, or among small or large fleets.
Don Thornton, senior vice president at DAT, called driver detention an "urgent issue" that shippers and consignees need to put at the top of their priority lists. "Many shippers and receivers are lax about their dock operations, but it's the carriers and drivers who are forced to pay for that inefficiency," Thornton said in a statement.
Norita Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), said that dock delays are a serious problem for drivers because they are paid only when their wheels are turning and are already subject to daily caps on their drive times. The basic structure of driver pay means that users of trucking services have no motivation to improve the situation, Taylor added. "Because drivers are not paid for their time, shippers and receivers have no incentive to value truckers' time," she said. "It is the biggest inefficiency in trucking."
A December 2014 study by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the sub-agency of the Department of Transportation that regulates motor carrier safety among its various functions, found that drivers, in general, encountered detention times on 10 percent of their stops, and were held, on average, for 3.4 hours, or 1.4 hours beyond the accepted two-hour window. Mid-sized carriers—fleets with 51 to 500 tractors—experienced twice as many incidents of detention as larger carriers, though the average length of time of a detention was about the same, according to the study.
Drivers for truckload carriers were five times more likely to be detained than were drivers for private carriers, and 2.6 times more likely than LTL carriers, according to the FMCSA study. The odds of a truckload driver being detained were nearly 5 times greater than for private carriers and 2.6 times greater than for for-hire LTL carriers, the study found.
Ironically, the FMCSA study concluded that the odds of a driver for a temperature-controlled carrier being detained were 6.3 times greater than for dry bulk carriers, even though the contents of a temperature-controlled trailer would be more susceptible to spoilage due to long wait times.