The ugly truth about detention – and the opportunity

The capacity crunch of 2018 shined an unforgiving light on the issue of detention – making drivers wait excessively for their trucks to be loaded or unloaded at shipping docks.  The ugly truth – poor planning practices by shippers increased anxiety with an already stressed-out driver community, created unnecessary inefficiencies and extra costs, and left badly-needed capacity sitting idle for an unacceptable amount of time, wasted on the sidelines.

And in a market already short of drivers and tight on capacity, drivers have a choice: put up with shippers who waste their time, or reject those loads and gravitate to shippers who respect and support the driver, turn them around quickly with quality loads, and recognize for drivers, time really is money.

According to industry research, at peak in 2018, the average truck hauled 3.73 loads per week, leaving reasonable room for 1.27 more loads if it weren’t for excessive detention time.  That equates to a potential additional $1,417 in revenue for the driver. How could this additional income impact carriers?

It’s absolutely critical for small carriers, those with five trucks or less as well as single-truck owner-operators.  These are businessmen and women. The opportunity to handle more loads in the same available time through lower detention makes more efficient use of their time and helps them sustain a profit. When they sit, they are essentially losing money.  And when that happens, we lose them as providers and that capacity either goes away or to someone else.

Today a typical over-the-road truckload driver actually drives about 6.5 hours of the 11 hours available in a day. By one industry estimate, average detention times can range from 2 hours to as much as 5.5 hours. The same research showed that only 3% of detention time invoices get paid to carriers, leading to very low profitability or even losses. That is why carriers are self-selecting to work for the more efficient shippers.

If detention time comes down by even 1 to 1.2 hours, pushing actual driving time up to 8 hours per day, that potentially could add up to 20 percent more available truck capacity into the supply chain.  It’s just better utilization of what we have today, without adding any more resources.  And it puts that much more money in the driver’s pocket, keeping them in the game.

The other upside for shippers: the potential for lower rates, or moderated rate increases.

How can this be in a tight market?  Today, the carrier bakes into their freight pricing the projected cost of detention. As detention comes down the carrier doesn’t have to account for this cost, an efficiency gain which ultimately is reflected in the rate.  To unlock this hidden capacity requires no other investment that shippers being more responsive and effective in planning for efficient, fast-turn driver loads and unloads. And giving that driver the proper respect earned for a difficult job well done.

It’s also good for the carrier, which may seem counter-intuitive. Think of it this way. If you can increase capacity by reducing detention time, the carrier could potentially move another 5 extra loads a month. And even if rates moderate, and profit per load is marginally less, the driver is moving more loads in the same total available hours – and overall making more money. 

Less detention time also increases accurate predictability of when the shipment will make delivery, and when that truck becomes available for the next load. So the trucker is securing more loads earlier, and faster, with less time waiting in between. 

At the end of the day, lower detention means more available capacity, assets better utilized as more freight moves with the same number of trucks, and drivers earning more.  That’s a winning formula for all the players in ever more cost-effective supply chains.

(For another perspective on detention and its impact on trucking capacity, read this story at


  • Earl T Harris Jr
    Posted April 12, 2019 5:25 am 0Likes

    The only way shippers and receivers will become more efficient is by hurting financially. No driver time should be free. Forklift drivers don’t work for free, not even an hour. For each hour the truck sits at the dock the rate should increase by at least $100 per hour, if not $200.

    My goal is to generate $1000 per day in revenue. If I am not driving because of being held captive at the dock, the customer needs to make up that loss in revenue.

  • Groo
    Posted June 6, 2019 12:53 am 0Likes

    I had some ridiculous detention times when driving. I once finished a 600 page novel in 4 days of dedicated hauling on detention time. Other paces I’ve been stuck more than 6 hours in a single stop. $10 to the driver and another $15 to the carrier for ever 15 minutes stuck at a dock after 30 minutes sounds about right. It would certainly get people moving. There is no reason a 53′ van trailer can’t be emptied and reloaded in 1/2 an hour. Some of these detentions royally screw you HOS as well. Why is driver safety only the responsibility of the driver?

  • Ivanka Koleva
    Posted September 25, 2019 12:33 pm 0Likes

    The problem is that the broker says that they will pay detention and after that they never answered the phone or you have to call them every day until they answer and finally give you $50.This way the carrier doesn’t want to deal with that broker anymore and finally everyone loses!

  • John Pape
    Posted September 25, 2019 12:40 pm 0Likes

    The question really becomes, how do we, the truckers, get the warehouses to respect our time and compensate us for sitting. My driver was at a receiver the other day, had 8 pallets on his truck, was empty in less than 30 minutes and then had to wait 2.5 hours to get his paperwork. When he asked what was going on, the receiver said, that we have 3 hours to unload you and we are going to take all of that time. It just doesn’t make sense.

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