FMCSA to Study Driver Detention in Newly Announced Audit

No matter where you work, time invariably equals money. Drivers typically work tight schedules and any interruption affects the schedules of other drivers waiting at shipping facilities. This has ripple effects to countless other drivers using the same facility to load or unload. According to a 2009 FMCSA study, U.S. carriers could gain $3.08 billion annually by eliminating loading and unloading inefficiencies. This time waiting is unproductive and inefficient, and, in the context of the trucking industry can lead to serious ramifications, including the loss of customers or fatal accidents.

The FMCSA has been studying how detention affects drivers for a long time.  One study dating back to 2001, found a correlation between long delays in loading and unloading and crashes. As part of the FAST Act, the FMCSA was directed to issue regulations on collecting data on loading/unloading delays and report on their impact on transportation efficiency and its effect on the economy as a whole. This led to the recent announcement of the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation to initiate an audit of loading/unloading delays. No current law addresses driver detention or load/unloading delays other than drivers’ HOS requirements. In announcing the audit, the IG stated “[t]ruckers who experience these delays may then drive faster to make deliveries within hours-of-service limits or operate beyond these limits and improperly log their driving time, thus increasing the risk of crashes and fatalities.” The DOT stated its goals for the audit are to assess available data on motor carrier loading and unloading delays and to provide information on measuring the potential effects of loading and unloading delays.

Besides being an issue of safety, excessive loading/unloading delays can lead to late or missed deliveries. This can then lead to the loss of customers. Also, loading/unloading inefficiencies have a more pronounced effect on smaller carriers. A Virginia Tech Transportation Institute study found medium-sized carriers were detained for similar average detention times as large carriers, but were detained about twice as often. This is due to several factors, including larger carriers having long-term customers with close relationships so that formal procedures can be adopted, familiarity with those customers’ facilities and operations, and better logistical support. These advantages also provide larger carriers with more bargaining power to include in their contracts and enforce provisions related to detention charges, which naturally impacts detention times for larger carriers. Smaller carriers and owner-operators lack this leverage.

While the audit is mainly to collect data, this audit may lead to further studies which may lead to future regulations regarding driver detention, an area where the FMCSA has long been interested in improving and one where the U.S. lags behind other countries. For example, the U.S. may want to consider the example of Australia. In 2008, Australia passed sweeping laws regarding driver fatigue. The most important aspect was the concept of the Chain of Responsibility (CoR). Under the CoR, everyone in the supply chain, not just the driver or his or her employer, is responsible for preventing driver fatigue and ensuring drivers are able to comply with HOS regulations. In the event of a safety breach, authorities may investigate along the supply chain to determine if any actions, inactions, or demands of any person in the CoR contributed to the breach and hold the those responsible liable.

Because this audit likely precedes any future regulation by years, it is even more important for carriers to do what they can now to reduce unreasonable delays that can affect their bottom line. Even though many of the factors contributing to detention times are controlled by the shippers and receivers, studies indicate several factors in the control of drivers and carriers. These factors include having a driver’s paperwork in order, driver training and retention, and working with shippers/receivers in fostering deep relationships in order to become more knowledgeable on the procedures of specific companies and facilities. Additionally, those carriers with resources to do so should consider adopting helpful technologies in the form of trailers with tracking technology or using drop and hook operations more often.

This article was written by Andrew Laquet associate attorney at Roberts Perryman PC. Andrew’s focuses his practice on transportation, insurance defense and complex litigation.

andrew

Roberts Perryman has been a leader in transportation defense for over 50 years with offices in St. Louis and Springfield, MO and Belleville, IL. http://www.robertsperryman.com

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