Lawmakers prod FMCSA to move on driver detention

U.S. lawmakers have joined with federal watchdogs in pressuring the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to address driver detention times.

The INVEST in America Act, a $494 billion, five-year reauthorization of surface transportation programs introduced on Wednesday by Democrats on the U.S. House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, requires that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), through FMCSA, begin collecting data from drivers and carriers on delays during loading and unloading at shipper and receiver facilities and publish the data on a DOT website.

In addition, a rulemaking would be required no later than a year after the INVEST Act became law “to establish limits on the amount of time that an operator of a commercial motor vehicle may be reasonably detained by a shipper or receiver before the loading or unloading [of] the vehicle if the operator is not compensated for such time detained,” according to the bill’s language.

The rulemaking is to consider, among other things, any correlation between time detained and violations of the hours-of-service rules, and whether the effect of detention time on safety differs based on how a driver is compensated as well as on the contractual relationship between the driver and the carrier.

The rulemaking requirement in the legislation follows up on last year’s Request for Information (RFI) by the FMCSA on driver detention time. The RFI, which generated close to 600 comments, was prompted by a 2018 report by DOT’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) urging that FMCSA seek more data to better understand the cause of loading and unloading delays — and whether such delays affect safety. The OIG also highlighted driver detention as a “top management challenge” for FMCSA in 2020.

Costs attributed to time spent by drivers waiting to load and unload are significant. The OIG’s 2018 report estimated that driver detention can cut earnings for truckload drivers by $1.1 billion to $1.3 billion, with annual net income for carriers reduced by $250.6 million to $302.9 million.

Some respondents to the FMCSA’s 2019 RFI, including the American Trucking Associations and the International Warehouse Logistics Association, support letting the market address operational issues caused by driver detention — through commercial agreements between carriers and their customers — versus a regulatory fix.

Loads lost per month because of detention time
Source: OOIDA Foundation/2018 study

The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA), on the other hand, encouraged FMCSA “to explore its authority … to determine whether enforcement against shippers which consistently force drivers to wait for several hours in detention is a legal remedy for the detention time issue,” TCA stated in response to FMCSA’s RFI. “Because examples of detention can be quickly and easily identified through ELD data, FMCSA must determine its authority to act if these data are provided to the Agency by carriers.”

A study conducted in 2018 and published last year by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) Foundation found that drivers able to receive detention pay to compensate for lost time collect approximately $50 per hour on average — half of what owner-operators consider to be a fair hourly rate, the foundation asserted.

“Although most drivers and owner-operators are weary of more regulations, several members have recommended introducing language into the federal regulations requiring either penalties for shippers, receivers, and carriers who do not compensate for detention, or establishing a fixed hourly wage, or both,” said OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer in comments to FMCSA.

Spencer pointed out that his members believed brokers, shippers and receivers would not honor detention time pay “unless there was some form of motivation or incentive, whether it is through a federally mandated fine or by contracting with other brokers, shippers, and receivers who will ensure detention pay.”