In a Federal Register notice earlier this summer, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) asked seven questions about capturing reliable data on driver detention at shipper/consignee facilities. Comments are due by September 9. But what FMCSA has essentially done is post a sign that reads “Help Wanted.”

There is no doubt that driver detention is a major industry problem. It was the consensus of recent Congressional testimony. It was the subject of a 2011 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study, and a 2018 U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General report.

The DOT Inspector General (IG) estimated:

  • Truck drivers lose between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion in pay each year due to detention, averaging between $1,281 and $1,534 per driver
  • Motor carriers lose between $250 million and $302 million in revenue due to detention
  • Detention increases crash risk by 6.2%, or 6,500 more accidents a year

The DOT Inspector General concluded these are all estimates, built off of a “standard” two-hour loading time window and anecdotal evidence, neither of which may hold true in the diverse trucking industry. So, the IG called on FMCSA to collect more reliable data – the genesis of the current FMCSA request.

To find reliable data, FMCSA has asked these questions:

  1. Are data currently available that can accurately record loading, unloading, and delay times?
  2. Is there technology available that could record and delineate prompt loading and unloading times versus the extended delays sometimes experienced by drivers?
  3. How can delay times be captured and recorded in a systematic, comparable manner?
  4. Could systematic collection and publication of loading, unloading, and delay times be useful in driver or carrier business decisions and help to reduce loading, unloading, and delay times?
  5. What should FMCSA use as an estimate of reasonable loading/unloading time? Please provide a basis for your response.
  6. How do contract arrangements between carriers and shippers address acceptable wait times? Do these arrangements include penalties for delays attributable to a carrier or shipper?
  7. What actions by FMCSA, within its current statutory authority, would help to reduce loading, unloading, and delay times?

FMCSA may be asking the right questions but faces the challenge of answers that reflect diversity in the industry. For example, many carriers have shipper contracts which include a detention charge – but not all do. Does the cost and processing time for those detention charges adequately incentivize shipper efficiency? Do detention charges adequately compensate a delayed driver?

Similarly, shippers may have gate readers and door tags that monitor the time a truck was at the facility and actively loading/unloading, but, again, not all do. Even a well-managed appointment system, benefiting shipper, carrier and driver alike, can have major delays when just one appointment goes awry – who is responsible for those ripple effects? And is there, in fact, a “standard” time for loading/unloading?

As FMCSA sorts out the answers received, it must ponder “what next?” Unlike its peer DOT agencies, the Federal Railroad Administration and the U.S. Maritime Administration, FMCSA was not tasked by Congress with promoting the economic well-being of its regulated industry. FMCSA must look to safety only. Within the safety arena itself, FMCSA’s jurisdiction is limited — note the phrase in question seven, “…within its current statutory authority…”

This raises the issue as to how far FMCSA can possibly regulate shippers. For more details about this, read the PrePass blog, “When Can FMCSA Reach Beyond Trucks and Buses?”

Driver detention is the result of a diverse and complex economic system. The FMCSA “Help Wanted” sign may next be turned toward Congress.