Feb 2, 2024

Understanding the Factors Behind Unpaid Wait Times for Truck Drivers

The trucking industry or trucking company plays a crucial role in the economy, ensuring that goods and products are delivered efficiently and on time. However, one persistent issue faced by thousands of drivers is unpaid wait times.

This occurs when drivers are forced to wait for extended periods at loading docks or other pick-up locations without compensation. Not only does this impact the financial well-being of truck drivers, but it also has a ripple effect on the entire supply chain.

The trucking industry is currently facing a shortage of truck drivers or shortage of drivers, and unpaid wait times only exacerbate this problem. In order to address this issue, it is essential to understand the underlying factors that contribute to unpaid wait times for professional truck drivers.

This article will delve into the various reasons behind this problem, including industry practices, regulations, and technological limitations.

By gaining a comprehensive understanding of the factors at play, stakeholders can work towards finding solutions that benefit both truck drivers and the trucking industry as a whole.

Mixed Feelings

Elmer Bontrager, a truck driver based in Kentucky, has mixed feelings about the helpful features of his big rig. While he appreciates the technology that aims to prevent accidents, he acknowledges its limitations.

The truck's alert system, designed to warn him of potential mistakes, is not always accurate. For instance, it may prompt him to stop at a weigh station unnecessarily or mistake ordinary road markings for hazards.

The truck cannot distinguish between real threats and insignificant blips. Bontrager believes that technology works best in controlled environments, where rational decisions prevail.

Unfortunately, the real-world operational setting involves human judgment, which can be irrational at times.

Advanced driver-assistance systems have become commonplace in trucks over the past decade. These systems monitor drivers' adherence to lane markings, safe distances from other vehicles, and other important driving behaviors.

Not A Substitute For Attentive And Well-Trained Drivers

While they have the potential to reduce accidents, they are not a substitute for attentive and well-trained drivers, according to Suman Narayanan, director of engineering at Dailmer Trucks North America's Automated Technology Group.

Although these features do not take over the driving job, they may lead drivers to become complacent. As a result, fleet operators are increasingly installing inward-facing cameras to ensure that truck drivers remain focused while on the road.

Companies like Motive, which provides AI-powered driver-facing cameras, report significant reductions in accidents and related operating costs after deploying their technology. For instance, fleets using Motive cameras experienced 57% fewer accidents within four months and a 30% decrease in accident-related expenses.

Annette Sandberg, a transportation safety consultant and former administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, explains that the installation of cameras is aimed at reminding commercial drivers of their responsibility to remain attentive. While fleet operators expect the advanced systems to detect potential dangers, they also want to ensure that commercial truck drivers proactively take actions to avoid accidents or risk of crashes.

The driver's ability to understand and respond appropriately to unexpected situations is still crucial, even with the assistance of technology.

Necessitated By Federal Regulations

Increased surveillance in the trucking industry has been necessitated by federal regulations. Since 2018, trucks are mandated to be equipped with Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) to ensure compliance with hours-of-service laws. Curiously, despite this requirement, the occurrence of fatal crashes involving large trucks has actually risen. Furthermore, violations related to speeding have also seen an increase during this period.

As trucks continue to evolve and become more technologically advanced, it is expected that the monitoring of drivers will intensify. This has led some drivers to question the rationale behind introducing such technology in the first place.

Benjamin Reed, a truck driver employed by a family-owned fleet in Wisconsin, shared his perspective on this matter. Reed stated that approximately half of the fleet he drives for possesses these so-called "safety" features. However, he and his colleagues have found these systems to be unreliable and unpredictable, regardless of their manufacturer or the type of vehicle they are installed in. Reed believes that the recent trend of replacing human competence with computer systems is a misguided approach that should be reconsidered.

The ‘Mushy Middle’ Problem Might Be Driving More Truck Driver Surveillance

The field of automation encompasses five distinct levels. Level 1 and Level 2 automation are commonly encountered by most passenger drivers, offering features such as adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assistance.

However, Level 3 automation is unlikely to be widely adopted in both commercial and passenger driving. While it is more expensive than less advanced systems, Level 3 still necessitates the presence of a driver in the vehicle.

Moreover, Level 3 automation contributes significantly to a phenomenon known as "passive fatigue." Numerous studies have demonstrated that when drivers are not actively engaged in the driving task, they are more prone to becoming mentally disengaged.

In such cases, the autonomous truck is primarily responsible for the majority of the driving duties, such as traveling at a legal speed on a highway. However, humans are expected to swiftly intervene in the event of a potential collision.

According to Bontrager, the increasing reliance on technology to handle truck driving tasks may paradoxically diminish driver focus and compromise safety. A study conducted using a driving simulator with automated vehicles revealed that a significant portion of passenger drivers did not react promptly when their automated vehicle veered towards a closed highway exit.

Another study observed that drivers displayed signs of fatigue, as indicated by facial expressions, after approximately 15 to 35 minutes of driving in an automated simulation. These fatigued drivers also exhibited slower response times when requested to take over control compared to those utilizing a traditional system.

Furthermore, multiple studies have suggested that driver attention wanes while operating a semi-autonomous vehicle.

However, it remains uncertain whether these findings directly translate to the trucking industry, where drivers are not immersed in a simulated environment. Narayanan emphasizes the importance of providing proper training to truck drivers for effectively utilizing these new automation systems.

Some Technology Providers Don’t Want To Deal With The ‘Mushy Middle’

The decision by certain startups in the driverless trucking industry to overlook lower levels of autonomous driving is driven by concerns surrounding passive fatigue. These companies are instead focused on developing fully driverless solutions, although they still employ well-trained safety drivers to operate the trucks.

According to industry representatives from Gatik, Aurora, and Kodiak Robotics, the complexity and potential risks associated with keeping drivers engaged during partial automation have led them to prioritize the development of fully autonomous technology. They believe that avoiding the challenges posed by lower levels of automation altogether is preferable.

Regulators have also expressed their concerns regarding the lower levels of automation. Richard Steiner from Gatik highlights the importance of ensuring that drivers are adequately trained to understand the implications and responsibilities associated with partial automation.

This includes understanding their role as the ultimate responsible driver, as well as comprehending the interplay between human factors and automation.

Despite their focus on fully driverless technology, these startups have plans to have autonomous trucks regularly transporting freight in the near future. Currently, both Kodiak and Gatik are operating within limited routes, with Kodiak trucks running between Dallas, Houston, Oklahoma City, and Atlanta, while Gatik trucks operate within a 300-mile round-trip range.

While this progress may be concerning for America's 2.2 million truck drivers, their immediate concern seems to be the increasing surveillance within their workplace. Many drivers have resisted the implementation of driver-facing cameras, expressing their strong opposition to such measures.

However, dashboard cameras are already in use in some fleets to monitor external activities.

In Conclusion

By understanding the various factors that contribute to unpaid wait times for truck drivers, we can begin to address this issue and work towards a more efficient and fair system for all parties involved. Whether it's implementing better technology, creating stricter regulations, or improving communication between shippers and carriers, it's clear that solutions are needed to minimize the impact of unpaid wait times on truck drivers.

Let us continue to educate ourselves and advocate for change in the trucking industry to improve the working conditions and compensation for these essential workers.

If you want to stay updated with a wide range of trends, actionable insights, and innovative solutions in the trucking, freight, and logistics industry, stay connected to us.

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