Driver Detention Has Increased in Recent Years, ATRI Finds

Driver detention time has increased.
A driver unloads a trailer. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg News)

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Driver detention at customer facilities has increased in recent years, according to new data from the American Transportation Research Institute.

ATRI released an analysis on the safety and productivity impacts of driver detention Sept. 4. The analysis relies on information collected from more than 1,900 driver and motor carrier surveys conducted between 2014 and 2018.

The analysis reflects that, over that four-year period, detention frequency and length has increased, which has yielded negative effects on productivity, compliance and compensation. The surveys indicate that respondents experienced a 27% increase in delays of six or more hours between 2014 and 2018.

The findings also reflected a 40% increase in drivers who reported the majority of their pickups and deliveries were delayed over the past year due to customer actions. According to results from ATRI’s 2018 driver survey, more than 79% of respondents said they had been late to or had to cancel their next appointment because they were detained at a customer’s facility.



ATRI Senior Vice President Dan Murray said truckers are confronted with the “perfect storm” of a strong economy and customers who haven’t met their needs in terms of increased dock availability, staffing and improved gate appointments. Customer facilities that aren’t ready for the volume of trucks calling on them creates a domino effect for the other stops that hauler needs to make.

“This has a huge impact on all shippers and receivers and carriers. It’s impacting the entire supply chain,” Murray told Transport Topics. “An extremely large majority of both drivers and carriers have said one of the biggest impacts downstream [is] every other appointment is going to be late.”

Female drivers were 83% more likely to be delayed for six or more hours than their male counterparts. ATRI worked with the Women In Trucking Association to interview female drivers on this issue. Many female drivers said the disparity is probably not due to dockworkers showing preference to male drivers, noting that workers can’t see a driver’s gender when she is backing a truck into a loading dock.

The interviewees indicated that women often experience longer delays because they are less likely to show aggressive persistence while being detained. They said women tend to be more patient.

“I think male drivers have a shorter fuse than women do when it comes to waiting,” one respondent, a female truck driver identified by the initials J.L., said in the report. “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.”

Detention costs carriers money as well as time. ATRI found, on average, fleets charged an excessive detention fee of $63.71 per hour. This fee is slightly less than the average operating cost of $66.65 per hour as documented in ATRI’s Operational Costs of Trucking report, which was issued in October. Excessive detention generally is defined as any delay that exceeds two hours.

Murray said electronic logging devices provide an opportunity for drivers to keep track of their detention time, which can come in handy if they have to charge excessive wait fees. He said more drivers should rely on this tool. ATRI found that 17% of drivers in the 2018 dataset used their ELDs to document detention times for shippers and receivers. ELD data can help dispel arguments between shippers and drivers as to how long a truck was sitting in the lot.

“With an ELD in place, the argument is moot. It moves the issue away from word-of-mouth to highly empirical proof,” Murray said. “We’re hopeful that as ELDs become more mainstream that more drivers will use that to corroborate the extent of the detention.”

The analysis identified certain solutions to smooth customer-driver relations. Many drivers said the best facilities use technology to communicate, such as options to book appointments online and advanced notifications sent to drivers ahead of schedule.

Driver detention has appeared on ATRI’s list of top industry issues in the past. The 2019 list will be released at American Trucking Associations’ annual Management Conference & Exhibition, which will be held in San Diego on Oct. 5-9.

ATRI’s online survey gauging industry concerns will remain open through Sept. 20.

“ATRI’s new detention research definitely helps us understand the full financial impact associated with detaining drivers,” said Edgar McGonigal, chief financial officer of Bestway Express Inc., a family-owned trucking company based in Indiana. “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.”