Detention and Dwell Times: The Menaces of Supply Chain Efficiency

Prolonged dwell times have been an age-old inefficiency that the trucking industry has been trying to curb. Longer dwell times affect the drivers, carriers and shippers alike. An estimated detention time or dwell time can cost trucking companies $3 billion per year as per the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The total time spent at a facility by a driver is called dwell time while detention is the gap between the allocated time to start loading/unloading and the actual time of loading/unloading. Longer detention at customers’ premises has largely impacted drivers’ available hours-of-service. Ideally, shippers and receivers are allowed a 2-hour window to load or unload a truck. Any time spent outside the allotted time calls for detention charges. Detention is thus used to offset the cost of a truck being detained at a shipper or receiver’s premises.

Dwell time in unprecedented times – A challenge

The month of March saw an unprecedented rise in panic-buying, which resulted in a tremendous spike in demand. The truckers continued to ply on the highways, making essentials available throughout regions. With increased demand, came the perils of heightened dwell times and detention times. The added safety protocols, social distancing, precautionary SOPs to be followed at the shipper and consignee facilities and the shortage of manpower had considerably impacted the driver detention times. On the other hand, transit times may have improved, owing to less traffic congestion during the lockdown period.

Improvement in the check-in process, ensuring social distancing, enhancing driver safety and the use of technology to manage appointments and improve collaboration between all parties have been the key drivers of change.

Improvement in the check-in process, ensuring social distancing, enhancing driver safety and the use of technology to manage appointments and improve collaboration between all parties have been the key drivers of change. While the world adapts to the new normal in supply chains, it is of utmost importance that more sustainable solutions are innovated and implemented.

Detention: Causes and Impact

Inefficiencies at the facility such as the lack of manpower to load and unload consignments, the unwillingness of the shippers or consignors to invest in manpower to accommodate increased freight movement and the inability at the individual level are the main reasons for increased detention durations. Additionally, mismanagement of appointment times such as goods not being ready for dispatch while the vehicle arrives at the premises lead to unwanted delays. Another common reason is the overbooking of appointments – when more trucks are booked than what the loading location can handle. All of the above contribute to increased detention times, which in turn amounts to losses for truck drivers. On average, truck drivers spend two and a half hours waiting at the shipper or receiver premises to load or unload goods. These hours are not considered as working hours, thus, leaving them unpaid.

We need to understand that most of the drivers are paid on a per-mile basis, therefore, every moment lost in delays is a direct loss of income for drivers.

We need to understand that most of the drivers are paid on a per-mile basis, therefore, every moment lost in delays is a direct loss of income for drivers. On the other hand, for LTL carriers, waiting at a certain facility for longer durations can mean skipping the delivery altogether.

As per a  2018 report published by the Department of Transportation Officer of the Inspector General (OIG) that sought to understand the correlation between driver detention times, crash risks and costs incurred, it was found that detention time may impact annual earnings for truck drivers by $1,281 to $1,534 per year in the negative. Shippers of essential goods have experienced longer detention times at facilities lately. For example, the recent crisis of toilet paper around the nation had trucks lining up at facilities for hours before being loaded with goods. Detention fees paid by shippers to carriers can only offset the loss up to an extent but that money fails to cover the driver wages lost by not driving. Primarily, the carrier efficiency and a driver’s payable hours-of-service are at stake, but the effects of longer detention times invariably trickle down to every stakeholder across the supply chain.

Is there a long term solution – that can increase efficiency, while ensuring optimum asset utilization and prioritizing driver safety in times of crisis?

Longer dwell times and increased detention times are not a byproduct of the current economic crisis alone. They have lingered in the industry for quite some time now and only technology can help provide long term solutions to enhance supply chain visibility. In a recent statement by Collins White, the president of Alabama Motor Express, he stated, “It has become progressively worse since 2018. We have bought software that automatically tracks when the truck goes over the allotted two hours of dwell time and automatically bills the customer.” Better technology that tracks the movement of trucks with a precise estimation of time spent at shipper or receiver facilities will help us give a clearer picture of the spots where the detention is taking place. Identifying these spots will further enable a better understanding of bottlenecks, allow correct allocation of resources and change practices to streamline the flow wherever necessary.

On the other hand, the tried and tested drop-trailer business model may have worked for some quite well. In the drop trailer method, a driver leaves a trailer at the facility for a stipulated time period until another vehicle picks it up. This doesn’t time-bound the shippers and they can load trailers at their convenience. Given the current situation of restricted labor availability, this method comes as an interim respite but cannot be considered as an all-round solution to the problem.

Investing in data-enabled technology is necessary to be able to make any supply chain more robust and induce complete visibility.

Investing in data-enabled technology is necessary to be able to make any supply chain more robust and induce complete visibility. Location Intelligence (LI) is set to make location data more accessible to participants in a supply chain. The use of LI is a promising trend as it uses geographical relationships to decipher complex data that can provide fleets with critical insights of accurate detention time calculations. It can provide accurate information such as time of arrival and departure of a truck at a site. They can also monitor a driver’s fuel stop time or break times which can further help enhance asset utilization. Insights into trends pertaining to a particular time of a day or week can translate to better prediction of transit times and estimated time of deliveries. All of these are elemental in aiding data-enabled business decisions through optimized route planning with reduced dwell times that boost overall productivity and enhance supply chain performance.

As the nation grapples with the ongoing economic crisis, a sudden surge in demand followed by flattening of the curve, the unpredictable rise of freight volumes and its correlation with increasing or decreasing dwell and detention times remain a cause of concern. What must not be forgotten is that these problems of detention and dwell times pose the opportunity for a permanent change towards creating a symbiotic relationship between carriers and shippers. There is an immense potential for cost savings and enhanced operational efficiency that will invariably impact the driver community’s way of life on the road.