January 11, 2024

MIT FreightLab Co-Director David Correll has penned an article in the latest issue of CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly on driver detention. Correll's Driver Initative has spent several years studying why truck drivers only spend up to 7 hours on the road each day instead of the 11 allowed by law. It's a serious issue that cuts into companies' and drivers' bottom lines—and it's also a quality of life issue; to add insult to injury, when forced to wait for hours at warehouses, drivers are often not treated with respect or even allowed to use the restrooms.

Here's a brief excerpt:

Conventional wisdom says that the United States is suffering from a massive truck driver shortage. While it’s true that truck drivers are a scarce resource, it’s also the case that truck drivers’ time is frequently not respected and is significantly underutilized. The biggest culprit? Long delays at shippers’ loading docks.


As my students and I at the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics analyzed this data, we found that long-haul truck drivers across these companies and across four years, all drove on average about 6.5 to 7 hours per calendar day. Truck drivers in the United States are legally allowed to drive for 11 hours per day. This unfortunately implies that 4 to 4.5 hours of driving time, or roughly 35% of America’s daily trucking capacity is left on the table every day. Even in a time of perceived shortage. 

The first consequence then of lengthy and unpredictable delays at shipping and receiving appears to be severe underutilization of the valuable driver resource. Where do the 4 to 4.5 missing hours of daily freight carrying capacity go every day? It appears that, at least some of the time, that valuable capacity currently withers away at shippers’ own facilities as truck drivers wait for hours on end to be called up for loading and unloading. Another way then of seeing the challenge of the perceived driver shortage is not as a problem of headcount, but rather as a chronic crisis of underutilization.