I hate to date myself, but if you had asked me about twenty years ago what “detention time” is, I would have been all too familiar with the subject. Being a senior in high school, I was no stranger to the halls of detention. Now, however, the phrase has taken on an entirely new meaning — and its effects can be costly.

Since the conclusion of the hours of service (HOS) “listening sessions” held by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in early spring, detention time at shipper facilities and ports has been thrust into the spotlight as an issue long acknowledged but never dealt with. Spoken about in a majority of the comments, detention time is incurred when drivers must wait for their trailers to be loaded or unloaded. In an industry that prides itself on logistics and punctuality, the effect of this problem can be summed up by the saying “just in time to wait.”

FMCSA representatives were not the only people listening at these events. Recently, Congressmen James Oberstar (D-MN) and Peter DeFazio (D-OR) requested that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) look into the operational inefficiencies caused by detention times. While a GAO study is not a solution by any means, it can be a logical first step in reducing the problem.

Speaking in safety terms, being detained at a facility for hours can affect a driver's ability to perform his or her normal job-related functions. First and foremost, the time spent waiting has a major effect on a driver's compliance with HOS regulations. Drivers find themselves running short on hours, oftentimes forcing them to park in unsecure or illegal spots so they can obtain the rest prescribed in the regulations, rather than parking in a predetermined rest area or truckstop that is designed to help them obtain quality rest. While the passage of Jason's Law, a bill aimed to allocate new, safe rest areas and expand existing facilities, would help, curbing wait times would provide drivers and carriers with a better opportunity to plan routes and stay in compliance.

Cost can also be an issue when dealing with wait times. Obviously, with wheels rolling, goods can move to their destination in a scheduled and on-time fashion. When a driver is forced to wait to pick up or drop off a load, however, he or she is delayed in moving onto the next haul and can even “violate” the terms of a contract by delivering late. In essence, delays cost everyone in terms of both time and money.

While the cost continually affects drivers across the country, many carriers are proactively trying to resolve the problem of wait time by charging detention fees. As these fees begin to pile up for a particular shipper, the hope is that the company will change its practices after realizing that it's very costly to keep a driver waiting.

In the end, detention times as a whole must be reduced in order to ease the burden placed on our nation's drivers. I doubt that a tool or piece of equipment can be developed to assist in reducing these times; however, policies developed to aid the driver in minimizing them would go a long way toward maintaining compliance, keeping costs down, and, most importantly, making our roadways safer.


David Heller, CDS, is director of safety and policy for the Truckload Carriers Assn., responsible for interpreting and communicating industry-related regulations and legislation to the membership of TCA. Send comments to Mr. Heller at Safety411@truckload.org.