How Detention Hurts Everyone in the Industry

Just when you thought you didn’t have to deal with detention outside of high school, you got into trucking and detention took on a whole different meaning. To the outsider, detention may seem like just part of the job but what some may not realize is the dramatic effects it has on not just the driver but carriers and businesses as well.

Time is money

This couldn’t be truer for truck drivers. Most drivers are paid by either center-per-mile or a percentage of the loads they carry, so this means that if they are not moving they are not getting paid. How does detention play a role in this? Let’s break it down:

Drivers start their day either empty or loaded. For this example, we’ll say that our driver is loaded. They may have a short distance or a long distance to deliver their load but let’s fast forward to when they arrive on location.

As the driver arrives they will notify their dispatcher and that is technically when the clock starts for the driver. For whatever reason, the shipper is delayed in unloading the driver. The driver is now waiting, using up their hours of service while not getting paid to be there. Most carriers these days have a two-hour grace period before they began charging the shippers or customers for detention, typically at an hourly rate.

It is important to understand that the two-hour grace period is something the carriers typically give, sometimes it could be up to four hours or more depending on their contract with the customer or shipper.

While the driver is sitting waiting to get unloaded in this scenario, they are running out of hours to be on the road thus shortening their pay for that day. Not only is the driver losing out on earnings, but the carrier also isn’t exactly making money by having their truck sit either. Some portion, sometimes all, of the detention pay after the grace period ends goes to the drivers to compensate them for the time they could have been on the road.

This was a very simple example of how detention works and how it can harm the business from the carrier’s side. There are many different situations drivers and carriers find themselves in when it comes to detention, and it can all come down to the contracts they have with their customers and shippers. Regardless of the situation, time is money for drivers, and it becomes a headache when their hours of service are running up.

“DAT surveyed 257 carriers and owner-operators, and 63% of them said that the average amount of time they spend waiting for a shipper to get them loaded or unloaded is more than 3 hours. In the same survey, only 3% of drivers said they receive detention pay for at least 90% of their claims to the shippers.

On top of not always being paid, a detention fee does not fully make up the cost of the driver’s stationary truck and lost time. Added consequences for extended detention can include 1) missing an unloading time or 2) needing to pass on another load due to a missed pickup.” –

The other side of the coin

We did say detention affects everyone, including those that are causing the detention itself. While detention pay can be an inconvenience for customers, it can become a big pain and money pit if their operations prove to be regularly inefficient without any improvement. Some companies budget for detention for the whole year or a quarter at a time.

Companies that rely on truck drivers to move goods in and out of their warehousing space, ports, plants, or any location are realizing more, now than ever, how important efficient operations are. Not only should companies work continuously to improve operations to save money on detention fees and get shipments out with more ease, but it can save them on keeping workers there longer hours resulting in paying out overtime.

Other ways detention impacts the trucking industry

With the advent (and enforcement) of the ELD, carriers can obtain tangible data that can provide deeper insight into the issue of detention. This has helped shine a light on the problem so carriers can better their contracts with their customers, sometimes increasing their rates for those they know will be slow to load or unload.

This is an area that carriers must tread lightly, though. In today’s market, and at really at any given point, carriers need to remain competitive, and customers can choose not to agree to the terms of the contract resulting in loss of business for the carriers. The larger carriers can get away with smaller detention fees than a smaller fleet. This can truly hurt the little guys when it comes to being competitive with contract rates.

Another unintended consequence is contributing to the truck shortage. Imagine going to your job only to not be paid for 4 hours or so. The relaxed method some customers may have with their operations is indirectly affecting trucker morale, thus making it difficult to bring on a new generation of truckers.

Carriers are put in a tough spot where they must balance remaining competitive while also being sure that they retain good drivers and do right by them.

What carriers can do for their drivers

The best thing carriers can do for themselves, and their drivers are to ensure that the contracts they have with their customers are clear about their detention policies and fees and that everyone is in agreement. This will mitigate friction and the chances of nonpayment.

Look for and nurture relationships with customers who have drop and hook operations. This will ultimately get rid of the detention struggle. Many drivers prefer this, especially long-haul truckers that enjoy staying out for weeks at a time.

Lastly, ensure drivers are being compensated appropriately and fairly, as best as the company can. That extra fifty dollars or so can do more than you think in the long run and shows that you value their time.

What customers can do to avoid the dreaded detention fees

There are solutions for both parties but largely it is up to the customer and warehouse operations to improve for real change to happen. Some of these solutions may call for more manpower or an increased investment in technology with the end goal of saving money and improving efficiency.

“> Staggered Pickup Times

A shipper told Uber Freight that when they staggered pickup times they improve operations and saved roughly $300 in detention time per load.

> Extended Facility Hours

Similar to staggered pickup times, adding more hours of operation can decrease congestion and lower detention for truckers. With more time, appointments can be spaced out, and wait times decreased. Weekend and/or evening hours can go a long way to improve efficiencies.

> Mode-Specific Dock Doors

Having doors dedicated to different modes helps to keep things running smoothly and quickly. High-velocity doors and LTL doors can help ease congestion for drivers.

> More Dock Doors

Not feasible for everyone, but, if you can add more dock doors or move to a warehouse that has more dock doors, you can accommodate more appointments and lower wait times.

> Drop-Hook Programs

When able to facilitate a drop trailer program, detention is largely removed from the equation. Truck drivers can simply unhitch and keep moving/earning.

> More Staff at Facilities

Unready freight is one of the major causes of detention. Orders can be packed and prepped quicker when there is more labor on site to assist. Hiring more warehouse staff can help to quickly improve facility operations.

> Improved Operations

It all really comes down to improved planning, more visibility, and optimized labor. Smart shippers are looking at data to establish effective processes that prevent overscheduling of appointments, maintain adequate staff and equipment, and address problematic facilities.” –

An ongoing struggle

Over the decades there has been slow movement toward addressing and solving the issue of pay for drivers, whether it’s inclement weather, significant traffic delays, and detention. Thanks to technology the industry has begun getting a handle on how much time is spent behind the wheel vs. when the wheels are moving and how driver pay is justified.

When it comes to detention times, driver satisfaction declines the most when they come on board only to realize just how large of a problem this is. After the pandemic, detention times have only gotten worse with employee shortages within warehouses. As companies start to adapt and bring about change within their organization whether it be incentives, better pay, or technology, we can hope that this will alleviate detention struggles over time.

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