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Truck Driver Wait Times Cost Big Bucks

Research suggests how shippers can avoid these costs, which extend beyond detention fees.

New research shows that the costs associated with making truck drivers wait to load or unload freight at shipper and receiver facilities have gotten worse over recent years and are not expected to improve until trucking customers, and their customers, finally learn to take the issue seriously.

This was the conclusion of a study conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute, the independent research arm of American Trucking Associations. The research was based on responses collected from more than 1,900 fleets and 1,600 plus drivers that were polled twice—once in 2014 and again in 2018.

Both drivers and carriers identified key customer practices that they believe improve efficiency and minimize detention delays. They noted that customers who were well organized, utilized technology, maintained tightly managed schedules and appointments, and utilized as-needed extended business hours (“after-hours delivery”) had succeeded on greatly reducing delays.

“ATRI’s new detention research definitely helps us understand the full financial impact associated with detaining drivers,” says Edgar R. McGonigal, chief financial officer of Bestway Express. “From a safety and economic perspective, this research gives the trucking industry new insight into how both carriers and drivers should implement driver detention strategies.”

The average excessive detention fee per hour charged by fleets to shippers was $63.71, slightly less than the average per hour cost of $66.65 operating a truck in for-hire service that was found in another one of ATRI’s research publications, “Operational Costs of Trucking.”

ATRI observed that the negative impact of detention on carrier revenue and driver compensation may be greater than reported among smaller fleets (defined as those with fewer than 50 power units) due to the fact that 20% of them reported that they don’t charge their customers for excessive detention for the purpose of staying competitive with larger fleets.

Drivers reported a 27.4% increase in delays of six or more hours. There was a nearly 40% increase in drivers who reported that the majority of their loadings and unloadings were delayed during the previous 12 months because of customer actions.

The numbers cited in the study only pertain to direct costs. Driver detention at customer facilities can result in a variety of other adverse safety and economic impacts, ATRI points out. A 2015 report from the U.S. Department of Transportation estimated that driver detention costs truck drivers and fleets more than $1 billion annually and asserted that they may be associated with increased crash risk as well.

DOT concluded that this also is because the unpredictability of loading and unloading times can negatively alter driving times, which then also interferes with the drivers’ ability to maintain optimal sleep schedules.

In ATRI’s 2014/2018 survey, facility delays were cited by fleet managers as the No. 1 factor impacting drivers’ ability to comply with federal hours of service (HOS) regulations, which was followed closely by customer pick-up and delivery requirements.

When the drivers were queried on when they had run out of available on-duty hours because of being detained at a shipping or receiving facility, a big majority said they had run out of available hours while they were at a customer facility (82.8% in 2014 and 79% in 2018). A majority also reported that detention had a significant impact on their ability to comply with HOS rules.

It sounds like the government and the trucking industry need to do some more work educating shippers. In the survey, carriers and drivers expressed the belief that shippers and receivers may not care about HOS constraints on the driver because they likely do not understand the HOS regulations and are not held accountable for excessive delays—all of which further aggravates the issue of detention impacts on safety and productivity.

On the other hand, the researchers took note that, in spite of the electronic logging device (ELD) mandate that now provides an electronic means for recording wait times, only 17% of drivers reported having shared their ELD data with the customer to document and validate how long they had been detained.

Women Wait Longer

In analyzing the 2018 data only, the researchers were surprised to learn that female drivers were 83.3% more likely than men to be delayed six or more hours. Although they only make up about 6.6% of the total driving force, women reported that on average 55% of their appointments are delayed due to the actions of personnel at a customer’s facility, compared to 47% for men saying the same thing.

Men were detained more frequently than women in each of the delay periods that were measured in the survey up to two-hours. After two hours, women were detained longer in every other time period category. With the 7.7% difference in detention times measured between men and women, ATRI notes that women are not only detained longer, but also are detained more frequently.

These numbers left the researchers scratching their heads regarding what the reason was for this gender difference. To figure it out, they chose to individually interview a dozen women drivers to obtain their views Those women were surprised to learn they were being delayed more than men. The first reaction they got was surprise. Most of the women drivers were unaware of the difference, and in the end they didn’t believe it had to do with the dock workers showing preference toward male drivers.

What did they think was the cause? The interviewees suggested that women are perhaps less likely than men to show persistence and assertive behavior when they are being detained. For example, when customer facilities are behind schedule, drivers are typically asked to check in with dock personnel every few hours to get an update on the status of their load. Male drivers who check in more frequently or express more consternation than women appear likely to be loaded and unloaded more quickly

“I think male drivers have a shorter fuse than women do when it comes to waiting,” one female driver said. “I am less likely to go in and start drama and throw a fit because I’m not empty yet, as opposed to the guy next to me. A lot of my male driving friends become aggravated more quickly.”

A husband and wife driving team provided a relevant anecdote to support the possibility that women are simply more patient than men. The wife revealed, “I would say to my husband, ‘Let’s be patient and not go in yet because they are short staffed.’ And he would insist that we need to go in now because we had an appointment. I think it’s possible the people at shippers and receivers are yelled at more by men than by women.”

Breaking down delay differences by trucking industry sector showed that in 2018 refrigerated freight realized more than a 20% increase in loads experiencing detention of four or more hours In 2018, 36.5% of the drivers of refrigerated trailers indicated that they experienced delays of four or more hours, while just 23.7% of the total number of truck drivers reported the same.

The increased delays experienced by drivers in this industry segment also may be explained by the higher proportion of women drivers in the sample, according to the researchers—36.5% of the women drove reefers compared to 23.6% of the men.

The 2018 dataset had a larger percentage of women with just one to five years’ experience (33.3%) compared to new entrant male drivers (17.3%) and this may explain why the women in the sample experienced longer detention durations than did the men, ATRI noted.

“Most people start with reefer because it is a natural progression in the industry,” said one of the drivers. “The big companies are great to work for but they often require over-the-road experience. Once you put your time into doing the hard stuff you can graduate into doing the kind of freight you want to do, the kind where the detention isn’t as bad.”

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