Watchdog Report: The Effects of Delays in Loading and Unloading Trucks
U.S. Government Accountability Office
February 22, 2011
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From the U.S. Government Accountability Office, www.gao.gov Transcript for: Watchdog Report: The Effects of Delays in Loading and Unloading Trucks Audio interview by GAO staff with Susan Fleming, Director, Physical Infrastructure Related GAO Work: GAO-11-198: Commercial Motor Carriers: More Could Be Done to Determine Impact of Excessive Loading and Unloading Wait Times on Hours of Service Violations Released on: February 22, 2011 [Background music] [ Narrator: ] Welcome to GAO's Watchdog Report, your source for news and information from the Government Accountability Office. It's February 22, 2011. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration enforces limits on the number of hours commercial truckers can drive in a given period. With thousands of truckloads of goods moving over the nation's highways every day, any disruption in one truck schedule can have a ripple effect on others and affect their ability to perform within safety regulations. One source of such disruptions is delays in the time it takes to load or unload trucks, also known as detention time. A group led by Susan Fleming, a Director in GAO's Physical Infrastructure team, recently examined the prevalence and effect of detention time on the commercial freight vehicle industry. GAO's Jeremy Cluchey sat down with Susan to learn more. [ Jeremy Cluchey: ] This report focuses on detention time for commercial motor carriers. What's meant by this term? [ Susan Fleming: ] It's when truck drivers spend an excessive amount of time waiting to load or unload their goods at facilities. A certain amount of waiting time is expected, but the industry defines detention time as anything over 2 hours. We've actually heard of examples where a truck driver had to wait over 8 hours before being able to unload his truck at a facility. [ Jeremy Cluchey: ] And why is this issue such a problem? What happens when the wait times are longer than anticipated, for example? [ Susan Fleming: ] Detention time can lead to reduced driving time and potential lost revenue for truck drivers. As in other industries, truckers are subject to federal hours of service regulations that limit the amount of time drivers can work and drive during a normal day. These regulations allow the driver to be on duty for 14 hours, 11 of which they can drive their truck. As you can imagine, the longer a trucker has to wait to unload or load their goods, the less time he or she has to drive before hitting their hours of service limit. Also truckers can lose revenue if detention time impacts a driver's ability to deliver a load on time or pick up their next load. [ Jeremy Cluchey: ] Can you talk a little bit about the process your team used to collect the information for this report? [ Susan Fleming: ] Unfortunately there wasn't much available data on this topic, so we had to figure out a way to collect meaningful data in a short amount of time. We considered sending a survey to truckers or asking them to keep a detention time log for several months, but we ended up interviewing over 300 truckers at truck stops in several states. We reviewed the few studies that were conducted on this issue, and we talked to a lot of trucking industry stakeholders: companies, shippers, receivers, warehouse facilities, and ports. [ Jeremy Cluchey: ] What did you find in these interviews? What did the drivers that you spoke with have to say about detention time? [ Susan Fleming: ] About two-thirds of these drivers experienced detention time at least once within the last month, and about 80 percent told us that detention time impacts their ability to meet hours of service regulations; 65 percent said they had actually lost revenue. When faced with the choice of missing a scheduled pickup or delivery or losing revenue, truckers told us that they will sometimes choose to violate hours of service regulations. They will actually falsify their driving logs as a result of detention time. [ Jeremy Cluchey: ] What recommendations is GAO making based on this report? [ Susan Fleming: ] The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which is part of the Department of Transportation, has plans for several studies on fatigue and detention time in the next couple of years. We suggested that the agency include in its scope a definitive look at the link between detention time and hours of service violations. We feel that this assessment would help the agency determine whether additional federal action might be needed, but we do have one very important caveat: Given that the trucking industry was deregulated in the 1980s, we feel that any federal action to reduce detention time really needs to have careful consideration whether or not they would also lead to unintended impacts on the industry. [ Background music ] [ Narrator: ] To learn more, visit GAO's Web site at gao.gov and be sure to tune in to the next edition of GAO's Watchdog Report for more from the congressional watchdog, the Government Accountability Office.
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