Deborah Lockridge

Deborah Lockridge

"Truckitman” tells the story of being delayed at a shipper for three hours after the 90-minute loading time, waiting for paperwork.

“The craziest part was the shipper whited out our arrival time on our bills and told my driver they didn’t want to get hit with detention costs. The result was a snowball effect. My driver ran out of hours for that day, and by the time he got his hours reset, he was late for the delivery. The receiver held us there for six hours, and we did not make the next pickup ... My driver could have fudged his logbook and made it, but I don’t run that kind of operation. Unfortunately it cost us a lot of money.”

That was one of many tales reported by DAT Solutions as part of a recent survey on detention times. My bet is you have similar tales to tell.

It’s no secret that a lot of time is wasted when drivers wait to load and unload. The survey only confirmed that — but it also highlighted a big disconnect in brokers’ understanding of this issue.

Close to 63% of drivers spend more than three hours at a shipper’s dock waiting to be loaded and unloaded, according to the DAT survey of 247 carriers.

For 54% of drivers, wait times of three to four hours were typical, and 9% responded that five or more hours were common.

These numbers probably don’t surprise you. After all, 84% of the fleet respondents ranked detention in the top five business problems that carriers face.

DAT also surveyed brokers. While both brokers and carriers defined detention as holding a driver and truck at the dock for more than two hours during loading and unloading, only 20% of freight brokers ranked detention as a top-five problem.

Carriers are rarely paid for detention, but even when it is offered, it does not cover the full business cost that comes from the delay, according to DAT. Only 3% of carriers were paid on 90% or more of detention claims.

As many as two-thirds of brokers surveyed said they paid detention only when they could collect the fee from the shipper or consignee, while the other third paid whenever carriers complained.

The productivity loss of excessive detention time affects not only fleets but also drivers. For most, if you’re not moving, you’re not earning.

Making matters worse, treatment of drivers at the docks can be a major source of job dissatisfaction. The DAT survey found the vast majority of drivers said they were treated as if they were not there. Fewer than 10% said they were treated with respect.

As if productivity and driver retention weren’t enough to make detention an important problem, it’s also a safety issue. To make up for the lost time spent waiting at the docks, some drivers may drive faster to get in more miles during their hours of service limits, or drive longer than HOS rules allow.

This summer, the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General started an audit of commercial motor vehicle loading and unloading delays in response to provisions of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act highway bill, which became law late last year. Who knows what solution the government might come up with, and at the typical pace regulators move, it’ll likely be years before we see any proposals.

In the meantime, the first step is more communication between carriers and their shippers and brokers. The DAT survey offers some good data points to start a discussion. You’ll find a page of charts from the survey in this issue’s Fact Book.