GAO: FMCSA should study wait time further

Without more data on the extent detention time contributes to hours-of-service violations, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration may lack key information to reduce these offenses.

That was the conclusion of a Feb. 18 Government Accountability Office report, based on   more than 300 trucker interviews, talking to stakeholders and research. The agency is in the initial planning stages of detention studies, the GAO said.

U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) on Feb. 17 introduced H.R. 756, which directs the U.S. Department of Transportation to research trucker wait time and report results within a year of the bill’s passage. It was referred to committee without co-sponsors.

The DOT would issue a rulemaking within a year of that report on maximum hours drivers can be detained without compensation and set penalties for violations.

In that rule, the agency is to consider correlations between detention time and HOS violations and establish procedures for reporting violations, including electronic on-board recorder data.

Wait time costs are “largely born by truckers,” the report states. About 4 percent of drivers said they misrepresented hours in their log books and kept multiple log books to disguise incidents of violation of HOS due to detention time.

Drivers interviewed said detention fees to the shippers is usually for waiting more than two hours at the facility. The fee is based on the specific contract, but fees mentioned were $40 to $80 per hour.

Some carrier officials said not all carriers collect, even if in the contract, for fear of alienating customers. Also, shippers and carriers can disagree on the amount of time, so collecting can be challenging. For example, during one 90-day period, one carrier billed more than $4,300 in detention time fees but received less than $500.

The FMCSA needs solid wait time data, and plans studies addressing driver fatigue, compensation and detention. The fatigue study is set for July, but details on scope and methodology are not final, according to the GAO.

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Agency officials have requested funding for wait time research, which they said would also identify possible regulation changes that would reduce driver wait time.

The GAO suggested the FMCSA use a study-specific data collection form to collect wait time data, similar to the methodology used in an unpublished Federal Highways Administration study on HOS violations’ relation to load origin.

That study indicated drivers are almost twice as likely to have an HOS violation if the load originated with a broker.

In addressing wait time issues, lawmakers need to evaluate possible unintended consequences resulting from federal attempts at lessening the problem.

Another 2009 DOT study estimated that addressing wait time could result in a gain to carriers of about $4 billion annually, but that research did not cite data used in arriving at that figure.