"Until there is a consequence to the shippers, and those who are receiving the freight, they're going to keep abusing the truck drivers."
Will a bill to address detention issues mean drivers get paid for waiting? (Photo courtesy PacLease)
Will a bill to address detention issues mean drivers get paid for waiting? (Photo courtesy PacLease)

Yesterday, Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., introduced a bill that would require the Department of Transportation to study industry detention practices and establish a maximum number of hours that drivers may be detained without being paid.

Today, DeFazio appeared on "The Lockridge Report" on Sirius XM Satellite Radio's Road Dog Trucking Channel today to discuss his proposal. (Host Evan Lockridge is an HDT contributing editor and yes, we're also married.)

I listened in.

DeFazio explained that when he was chair of the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, he and his then-counterpart on the Senate side, James Oberstar, realized this was a problem. "I was prepared to introduce a bill, but needed documentation to convince my colleagues that this was a problem."

The Government Accountability Office interviewed more than 300 drivers, and 68 percent reported being detained within the past month. It also found that 80 percent of detained drivers had difficulty complying with hours of service requirements, and 65 percent reported lost revenue.

"We got the study back saying yep, it's a problem, something should be done about it, and that's what my bills about," DeFazio said on the show. "People just told the truth. They just told their stories the way it really is."

DeFazio''s legislation, H.R. 756, requires the DOT to study detention time and issue regulations on the maximum number of hours that a driver may be reasonably detained without compensation. The legislation would require shippers and receivers to pay a detention fee for detention of drivers beyond the time established by the DOT and authorize civil penalties against shippers for failure to pay for unreasonable detention time.

DeFazio said he's starting to solicit cosponsors on both sides of the aisle, and encouraged listeners to contact their members of Congress, share their experiences with the issue, and ask them to support DeFazio's bill. The goal is that it will become part of the surface transportation reauthorization that is expected to start moving sometime this spring. That's the bill's best chance, he told Lockridge.

"The reauthorization is a must-get-done. This indivudal bill has merit, but it's a lot more difficult [to get an individual bill like this passed]. The Senate floor is like a killing ground for bills that come over from the House."

He anticipates there could be pushback from Republican colleagues and pressure from big businesses that are the shippers and receivers who would be targeted.

"I would hope the Republicans won't automatically devolve to supporting shippers or others involved in the food chain here over and above small business folks who are truck drivers," he said. "Everyone's trying to cut costs, everyone is squeezed, and the drivers are at the end of that chain, so I suspect there will be pushback from those who profit [from the situation]"

"We're costing consumers and the economy as a whole because of these delays. We could easily have a more efficient system with all the tools we have, the internet, scheduling… the whole system could work so much better and save everyone money and time."

Some callers to the show, however, expressed concern that there could be a "careful what you wish for" aspect to the bill. Some predicted it could lead to a situation where shippers and receivers will charge drivers fines if they are late for appointments.