Why are my carriers showing up later and later?

This is a question we are getting here at Northern Refrigerated Transportation more and more. While we pride ourselves in on-time service and dependability, our industry is facing a serious challenge with the sometimes excessive amount of time carriers have to wait to get orders loaded and unloaded. The industry term for this is “detention”.

Detention occurs when a driver has to wait more than two hours to get product loaded or unloaded at one specific location. Drivers can be made to wait to have a door assigned to back into, for a receiver to allow lumpers to begin loading or unloading, and many times just to get the paperwork signed and returned to them. This effects our customers and our industry in many ways. The most obvious is that when a driver is detained too long at a particular stop, there isn’t any way to make up the time and the rest of the customers on that route suffer. It is not uncommon for a driver to have to wait 4-6 hours at one location to have the truck loaded or unloaded.

Have you tried to book a carrier lately only to be told they don’t have capacity to service your needs? I bet you have. A major contributor to this is recent laws that have been passed in regards to how many hours a driver can drive before having ten consecutive hours off. These are called Hours of Service (HOS) laws and while there are multiple facets of the rules within the HOS laws, the core of it is that a driver cannot drive more than eleven hours in a fourteen hour period and then they are required to have ten consecutive hours off duty. Detention is a factor in this as well. Here is why. With the HOS laws, there is a cap on how many hours a driver can work in a week. Now with limited hours available and the amount of detention drivers are incurring, many simply cannot earn the income they need driving a truck and are forced to pursue other careers. This results in reduced capacity for the carrier and forces them to turn away loads.

Detention is an issue that carriers, shippers and receivers must work together on to positively impact change, and solve, in order to turn around a trend that is threatening our industry. The thing that makes this such a difficult challenge for the carrier is that most of the time there is not a transactional relationship between the carrier who is being detained and the facility that is detaining them. In most cases, the carrier is hauling the shipper’s product, their customer, to be delivered to the shipper’s customer so the carrier’s only ways of addressing detention is to charge their customer or not deliver. In either case, the carrier becomes the “bad guy” by punishing their customer who is not the cause of the detention.


The good news is that there are many things that can be done to reduce and/or eliminate detention.

  • PRODUCTION FACILITIES can make sure their pickup appointment is scheduled to allow plenty of time for product to be produced, packed, and palletized so the load is staged for before the carrier arrives.
  • RECEIVERS can work with their inbound scheduler to make sure that their scheduled appointments are realistic and the loads on the schedule can actually be received and completed in the allotted timeframe. They also can assist in ensuring lumpers stay on task and that a driver’s paperwork is ready as quickly as possible once a load is received.
  • SHIPPERS can assist by making sure their shipment is ready before the carrier arrives.
  • SHIPPERS also can partner with their carriers and ask to be notified if they have a customer they ship to who consistently takes more than two hours to load or unload. Many times, a call from the shipper to their customers carries the weight that is needed for a change to be made.

Solving challenges begins with raising awareness. The more we all understand that detention is an industry wide issue that effects everyone involved, and not just the carrier, the sooner we will see improvement. Next, it requires that we take action and we all do what we can to ensure that drivers are able to make a living and trucks are available to meet customer’s shipping needs. At Northern Refrigerated Transportation we are committed to doing everything in our power to continue to provide timely and dependable service. We will provide you with any information you may need to assist in addressing detention challenges. Together we can change the landscape regarding detention and ensure a sustainable future for our industry. We thank you for your business, loyalty and for your involvement in helping reduce detention.