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Could 18 minutes a day cure the trucker shortage?

Turnover in the trucking industry remains a hot topic within the logistics space for several reasons. Lack of proper training, paltry pay, dwindling family time, and other quality-of-life issues have pushed people out of trucking at an alarming rate. In fact, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) reported a record shortage of 80,000 truck drivers, as turnover rates continue to exceed 90 percent. The latest driver survey from the Professional Driver Association (PDA) also revealed that more than one-third of the 1,214 drivers surveyed are looking to change jobs right now. 

Unfortunately, experts only see the shortage worsening over time. An ATA report released last year estimated that industry recruiters will have to bring nearly 1,000,000 new truck drivers into the industry over the next 10 years just to replace retirees and drivers who leave.  

Myriad studies and reports have attempted to figure out the many reasons drivers leave the trucking industry – and how to get them back – but what if this driver shortage had a solution shorter than an episode of your favorite sitcom? And what if it wasn’t really a shortage at all? One logistics expert would tell you that current drivers could alleviate the need for new ones all by themselves by logging a mere 18 additional minutes a day on the road. 

The cost of detention time on drivers

Research scientist and MIT FreightLab co-director David Correll believes that many logistics experts have mischaracterized the current driver shortage entirely. The key to understanding why truckers leave the industry, he says, lies in a careful examination of something that most drivers consider a nuisance – unpaid time spent on warehouse docks waiting for the loading and unloading of shipments. 

Correll’s research analyzed the behaviors and working patterns of more than 4,000 drivers between 2016 and 2019. This analysis, along with interviews with drivers and other industry professionals, revealed that truckers spend an average of 6.5 hours per day actually driving, which is barely more than half of the 11 hours they’re legally allowed to drive each day. What happens to the other 4.5 hours? More often than not, that time is taken up by delays on the dock – and it’s usually unpaid. 

In other words, Correll says, what experts have been calling a shortage for years is actually a “misdiagnosis” of the problem, stating that the issue came down to “an endemic undervaluing of our American truck drivers’ time” that left “forty percent of America’s trucking capacity … on the table every day.”

Maximize drive time

Instead of hiring new drivers that may end up leaving the industry anyway, Correll suggests a solution that increases how much time existing drivers spend on the road actually making money. Before the pandemic, Correll estimated that to make up the driver shortfall of 3.4 percent within a population of 1.8 million drivers who drive an average of 6.5 hours per day, carriers would only have to ensure that drivers spend an average minimum of 6.7 hours per day on the road.

This represents an increase of 0.2 hours, or only 12 minutes. Since the onset of the pandemic, Correll has increased that number to 0.3 hours, or 18 minutes, due to fluctuations in the driver population, increased driver shortages, a lack of parking and other factors. In other words, allowing drivers to bill an additional 18 minutes on the road would eliminate the “driver shortage” without having to hire a single extra driver.

“If we got the drivers that we already have more driving hours every day, if we could find 18 more minutes for them, perhaps they could alleviate these pressures that people are describing as a shortage,” Correll told Supply Management this past April.

The logistics network needs to work together

Where would those 18 extra minutes come from? Correll sees several things that could add that much time to a driver’s paid driving hours. Warehouse staffing shortages on weekends, for example, could lead to drivers spending even more unpaid time on dock than usual, so increased staffing would get drivers back on the road more quickly. Making matters worse, differences in the way drivers load and unload deliveries at various warehouses can lead to delays. Put simply, some methods are quicker and more efficient than others, and some can lead to wasted time. 

In addition, some parts of the supply chain don’t optimize drivers’ time as well as they should. As a driver, you just might be doomed to spend more time at some destinations than others. The key, Correll says, is for these facilities to reduce these “dwell and detention” times so drivers can use their mandated (and paid) time on the road. Add in traffic woes and searches for parking and fuel, and drivers often see their mandated driving hours disappear. 

As Correll told Supply Management, shippers, brokers, and carriers should work more closely together to synchronize operations and invest in automated and touchless technologies that should help reduce warehouse delays and improve efficiency. “If a company is not already aware of its dwell times and taking action to improve them, they should start,” he said. “We know that carriers are tracking that information, and in a tight market they are giving preference to the shippers who turn their drivers around faster.” 

Relay’s GPS-enabled mobile app helps drivers maximize their time on the road as much as possible. Drivers can not only explore parking and fuel options along their routes, but also eliminate many of the issues that lead to dock delays – and unpaid warehouse time – with secure digitized payments. You won’t have to go off-route to find what you need on the road, and you’ll be able to get paid for the time you actually spend working, preserve your service hours and save money. 

If you’d like to know more about how Relay can help keep you from wasting time and money on the road, download our app today!