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Understanding Trucking Detention Pay for Carriers and Freight Brokers

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Late delivery of a shipment due to detention is frustrating for everyone—the shipper, broker, and the carrier. Missed deadlines cost businesses time and money, neither of which anyone has to spare in the transportation industry.

However, it does happen and it’s best to have a plan in place to be prepared on how compensation works for this time in order to retain the driver and maintain business relationships.

We’ve created a guide to understanding detention pay in the trucking industry: what it is, why it matters, and how to calculate it. We’ll also outline rights and regulations around detention pay and the role of carriers and brokers.

What is detention pay?

Detention pay is the money a driver earns if he or she must wait at a shipper or receiver for an extended amount of time. There is typically a grace period (most commonly 2 hours). Detention time is usually paid as an hourly fee. This payment amount can be negotiated before signing the contract, but not once an invoice has been submitted to protect both the carrier and the broker.

The impact on the relationships with shippers (for both the broker and the carrier), the time taken away from other jobs, and the increase of a safety violation means everyone wants to avoid detention whenever possible.

What are the impacts of detention pay?

Detention pay does impact a driver’s earnings—but not in the way you would initially think. Drivers are paid when they’re moving, not when they’re sitting at a dock waiting for a shipment to be loaded or unloaded. Without detention pay in the contract, that driver could lose hours of income without any way to earn it back.

In fact, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) recently reported that drivers lost between $1.1 and $1.3 billion in wages per year due to detention time. Not to mention the time it takes away from their family or other commitments outside of work.

Outside of the financial aspect, detention pay also helps maintain schedules and efficiency in freight in transportation. Usually, detention delays can be blamed on poor logistics management on the part of the shipper. This could be anything from inefficient processes for loading/unloading, not enough personnel to help in the yard, or perhaps a lack of space for trucks. Carriers want to keep their trucks moving and on the road as much as possible, so looking for shippers with efficient processes is at the top of their priority list.

How to Calculate Detention Pay

When carriers are calculating the detention rate for contract negotiations, they need to keep all operating costs in mind. This includes fuel, maintenance, tires, permits, salaries, and what is potentially lost with unaccounted detention time. Knowing this can help negotiate a fair detention cost.

In 2021, a survey done by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) found that most truck drivers are paid around $46 per hour (not including fuel, maintenance, tires, etc.)—that’s one aspect of your overall operating costs.

There will be variation rates depending on your shipper. But on average, a detention fee is around $85 an hour, which is enough to cover a driver’s pay and all the other operating costs for the carrier. Brokers should work with the shipper to ensure compensation without causing the driver or broker to lose money.

Rights and regulations around detention pay

In a recent study, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) looked at the amount of time drivers were spending in detention. They wanted to learn about the frequency and severity of detention time, solutions to measuring the time, and offer strategies for reducing detention time. The purpose of this study was to help tighten the regulations surrounding detention pay and offer transparency.

In the last decade, legislation was submitted asking that the “Secretary of Transportation prescribes standards for the maximum number of hours that an operator of a commercial motor vehicle may be reasonably detained by a shipper or receiver.” As a result, the FCMSA began conducting an extensive study on detention time and its impact on the industry, and the report is expected to be released in the summer of 2025.

In the meantime, the acceptable industry standard is that after two hours, a driver should be compensated for the time they spend waiting in detention, but the rules and tariffs allow up to four hours. This continues to be an ongoing conversation in trucking.

How carriers can ensure they get detention pay

For carriers, here are the steps and documentation you need to be sure you are compensated correctly:

  • Understand the Policy. Every broker agreement will have its own policies regarding detention pay. Be sure to examine the contract and understand when detention time starts, how it’s calculated, and the rate of pay.
  • Record Arrival Time. Make sure to document the exact time you arrive at the pickup or delivery location. This might be through a timestamp or an electronic logging device. Be sure to write down when you arrive for your records.
  • Notify Relevant Parties. If you are being detained, notify the dispatcher or broker as soon as possible. Communicating early can help expedite the process and is also a record of the detention.
  • Document Loading/Unloading Time. Keep track of the time when loading or unloading starts and ends. This will be part of the total detention time.
  • Keep Proof of Appointment. Keep a copy of the delivery or pickup appointment. This might be an email, a text, or a written document, with proof of the scheduled time.
  • Provide Complete Information. Submit all documentation about the detention to the dispatcher or broker as soon as possible. This includes arrival time, the start and end of loading/unloading, and total detention time.
  • Retain Receipts or Bills of Lading. Keep a copy of the signed bill of lading or the delivery receipt, which shows the time the process of loading/unloading was completed.
  • Follow Up. Keep in touch with the dispatcher or broker on the status of the detention pay claim so it doesn’t get overlooked.

How freight brokers help manage detention pay

Often, a freight broker is the carrier’s only point of contact with the shipper or receiver. When a truck is detained, the freight broker is often in the position of “go-between” to ensure the detention pay is received.

This means the freight broker will oversee:

  • Negotiating detention pay rates with carriers and shippers. This should happen before the contract is signed, and carriers, shippers, and brokers should have a good understanding of the fees in the event of detention.
  • Mitigating disputes and ensuring fair practices. The broker will most likely help mitigate a detention dispute that arises, ensuring the carrier and the shipper both receive fair treatment and pay at the end of the contract.

Ways to reduce detention time

Both carriers and brokers can play a role in reducing detention time. Take these steps to keep detention time to a minimum and reduce the hassle:

  • Communicate early. Especially as a carrier, be sure to communicate with brokers about estimated arrival times and any delays that might occur. Be prompt—that can help everyone at the dock prepare for the truck’s arrival and move the loading/unloading process forward quickly.
  • Document thoroughly. Keep track of everything, including arrival and departure times at the shipping/receiving facility. This is crucial information when seeking compensation for detention time or disputing prolonged wait times.
  • Create flexible schedules. Try to be flexible whenever possible. Schedule pickups and deliveries during off-peak hours to help avoid congestion and minimize wait times.
  • Use technology. Use all the technology available to help manage and monitor detention times. Utilize ELD, apps, dock411, and others to help you ensure efficiency and transparency.
  • Build good relationships. You want a strong relationship with everyone involved in the contract. Mutual respect and understanding goes a long way in discussing and negotiating detention pay.
  • Make detention policies clear. Brokers should keep detention policies clear and communicate them to all parties involved before there is an issue. This includes what acceptable wait times are before detention charges kick in.
  • Use efficient loading/unloading practices. Encourage all shippers and receivers that you work with to implement efficient practices that keep loading and unloading times to a minimum. This includes having enough staff and using efficient equipment.
  • Implement driver training. Every driver a broker employs should understand the detention policies and be trained in what to do when detention occurs.

Understand and manage detention pay effectively

Carriers and brokers have a lot of power when it comes to how a detention delay is handled, and the number one tool is being prepared. Know and understand the importance of detention pay and calculate a fair fee. Keep your policies clear and efficient and communicate regularly.

Most importantly, make sure your drivers understand their role in making a detention dispute fair and simple through communication and documentation.

Truckstop can provide you with the tools to ensure you find the best rates for each trip. Use our Rate Insights tool to calculate fuel surcharges by cost per gallon and miles per gallon to help you land on the correct surcharge rates.

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