Detention time issue under fire at supply chain hearing

November 17, 2021

Mark Schremmer


Solving the supply chain crisis is less like a detective show and more like a reality weight loss show, says transportation expert David Correll.

The analogy from the lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Center for Transportation and Logistics suggests that there is not a single culprit, but rather a need for the reordering of priorities.

Those priorities include better utilization and improved treatment of truck drivers.

“We’re all sort of living with the consequences of the prioritizations we made in America over years and over the pandemic, and the only way we can do better is to reprioritize in a way that respects truck drivers’ time and respects truck drivers’ dignity and harmonizes the system,” Correll said.

His statements served as part of his testimony for a House Transportation & Infrastructure hearing focused on supply chain challenges. The hearing on Wednesday, Nov. 17, examined such issues as detention time and the lack of truck parking. Correll was joined by ATA President Chris Spear, Port of Long Beach Executive Director Mario Cordero, Association of American Railroads President Ian Jefferies, Transportation Intermediaries Association President Anne Reinke, and Transportation Trades Department President Greg Regan as witnesses on the panel.

Although the ATA contends that part of the supply chain issues stem from a shortage of 80,000 truck drivers, Correll said the bigger issue is an inefficient use of the nation’s existing truckers.

“I believe that the American truck driver is chronically underutilized and has been since at least 2016, when our data begins,” Correll said.

Because of detention time and other factors, Correll said his data shows that truckers typically drive only 6.5 hours a day even though they are allowed a maximum of 11 hours.

“This implies that 40% of America’s trucking capacity is left on the table every day,” he said. “This result is especially troubling in times of perceived shortage and crisis, like we find ourselves today.”

Put another way, Correll said ATA’s estimated 80,000 driver deficit could be resolved by simply improving the utilization of America’s existing truck drivers by 18 minutes per day.

“My research leads me to see the current situation not so much as a headcount shortage of drivers but rather an endemic undervaluing of our American truck drivers’ time.”

House T&I Chair Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Correll used the hearing to put a spotlight on the detention time problem in the trucking industry. Detention time is referred to as the time truck drivers sit at shippers or receivers waiting to be loaded or unloaded. Truckers often are not compensated for any of that time.

“For years, I’ve talked about detention time,” DeFazio said. “You get to a warehouse, and they say, ‘Get in that line over there.’ Five or six hours later, maybe you get unloaded. Maybe you’re out of duty time now. That’s your tough luck. It’s no skin off their back. It doesn’t cost them anything to make you sit there.

“They put the cost on the truck driver, and I’ve been trying to pursue this issue for quite some time.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which submitted a letter on the supply chain to the hearing record, agreed that detention time and the undervaluing of a truck driver’s time play major roles in the supply chain crisis.

OOIDA cited a 2018 U.S. Department of Transportation Inspector General report that estimated truckers lose between $1.1 billion and $1.3 billion in annual earnings because of detention time.

“These findings from the OIG report echo what OOIDA members have been experiencing for years,” OOIDA wrote in the letter signed by President Todd Spencer.

The Association has been advocating for the repeal of truck drivers’ overtime exemption in the Fair Labor Standards Act.

“The exemption was implemented in the 1930s to prevent truckers from working too many hours, but today it simply prevents them from receiving adequate compensation for the work they do,” OOIDA wrote. LL


Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.