Woman truck driver waiting to load

Detention time for the trucking industry : what is it ? How to minimize it ?


by Clémence Levieil, on 3/29/2024

5 min read

Anticipating the flow of transports and operations inside the warehouse is almost an art to master ! Thanks to systems like our Dashdoc Flow solution, shippers and carriers can handle this type of situation more peacefully, especially the detention time. What is that ? How to tackle it ?

What is trucking detention time ?


Detention time in the trucking industry refers to the period a driver must wait at a shipper or receiver to load or unload their truck beyond the scheduled appointment time

This waiting period can significantly impact a trucker's efficiency and overall profitability, as it prevents them from moving on to the next job. 

Why do we talk about “detention fees” ?

Detention time becomes a critical issue when it exceeds the generally accepted two-hour grace period provided by most shippers or receivers. Beyond this window, carriers often charge detention fees to compensate for the lost time and income

These fees are intended to mitigate the financial impact on the carrier and incentivize shippers and receivers to expedite the loading and unloading process. 


Detention fees vary widely across the industry, influenced by factors such as location, the type of cargo, and the specific terms agreed upon between carriers and their clients.

What is the average rate for trucking detention time ?

However, industry standards suggest an average rate ranging from $50 to $100 per hour after the initial grace period. 

It's important for carriers to negotiate detention fees as part of their freight contracts to ensure they are fairly compensated for their time. This practice not only supports the financial health of the trucking operation but also encourages more efficient practices at loading docks, benefiting the entire supply chain.

What are the causes of detention time ?

We can make a list of several factors : 

  • Operational inefficiencies: Poor planning and a lack of coordination at loading and unloading sites often create congestion and setbacks.

  • Scheduling discrepancies: Differences between the times drivers are scheduled to arrive and the actual availability of loading docks lead to unnecessary wait times.

  • Unexpected holdups: Equipment malfunctions, adverse weather conditions, or shortages in staff can introduce unexpected delays.

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  • Documentation delays: Delays can occur if necessary documentation, like shipping papers or customs forms, isn't ready in time.

  • Peaks in activity: During busy periods, the surge in incoming or outgoing shipments can exceed facility capacities, leading to prolonged waiting periods.

A truck driver connected to verify loading time
A truck driver connected to verify loading time

What is the financial impact on shippers and truckers ?

Detention time can lead to deep impacts on shippers, truckers and even receivers, if they constantly happen.

For shippers, it is going to result in : 

  • delayed shipments in the end, which will create problems in the supply chain : missing goods. 

  • excessive costs for transportation.

For receivers or carriers, it will create : 

  • planning problems for the warehouse, storage issues

  • negative customers opinion : it can impact your long-term relationship with them and your brand (reputation).

For drivers, it will : 

  • split his income base because the more the drive, the more they get paid. If they wait too much, it is considered as “no performance”

  • disengage him : it won’t create an attachment to the company. If he waits too long on a repetitive basis, he is going to look for opportunities where the receiving conditions are better prepared.

How to calculate it ?

To figure out detention charges, it's important to know both the allowed waiting time without incurring costs and the fees tied to exceeding this time. This often comes down to what's been laid out in the contract or deal between the shipping party and the carrier. Once you go past the agreed-upon time where waiting is free, that's when you start racking up detention fees. Here's how you work out what those fees will be:

  • Start by pinpointing the duration of waiting time agreed to be free of charge (for instance, 2 hours).

  • Next, figure out what the charge is for each hour past that free period (like, $50 for every hour).

  • Work out the total amount of time spent in detention (say, 4 hours).

  • Finally, do the math to calculate the fee for detention by multiplying the hourly charge by the number of hours detained (in this example, 4 hours at $50 per hour equals a total of $200).


Detention Charges = (Total Detention Time - Free Waiting Time) × Hourly Detention Fee


  • Total Detention Time is the total amount of time spent detained beyond the scheduled appointment.

  • Free Waiting Time is the duration of waiting that's allowed without incurring any fees, as agreed upon in the contract.

  • Hourly Detention Fee is the rate charged for each hour (or part of an hour) beyond the free waiting time.

What can you do to avoid detention time as much as possible ?

In the immediate future 

There are some tips or tools that can help you save time right away : 

  • Effective communication: Ensure communication channels are open to share precise times of arrival and departure. It's important for shippers and receivers to quickly update carriers on any changes in schedule.

  • Adaptable scheduling: By allowing flexible scheduling of pickups and deliveries, shippers and receivers can improve efficiency and better align with carriers' timings.

  • Utilization of technology: Adopt technology solutions for tracking and communications to offer up-to-the-minute information on the status of shipments and alert to any delays.

  • Rewards for efficiency: Think about setting up rewards systems that encourage swift loading and unloading processes, aiming to minimize delays.

To insert in your strategy

Over time, you need to set up your strategy, this is where the advantages of an appointment scheduling system can suit you.

  • Scheduling efficiency: Implement sophisticated scheduling tools to align carrier schedules with available loading dock times. There are a lot of trends regarding appointment scheduling tools, so you should necessarily find something interesting for your way of organizing logistics operations.

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  • Live shipment monitoring: Utilize tracking systems to keep a real-time eye on shipments, helping to predict and manage delays.

  • Joint problem-solving: Encourage a team approach among carriers, shippers, and receivers to pinpoint and address logistical challenges.

  • Insightful data review: Examine past records of detention times to uncover trends and opportunities for process enhancements.

  • Ongoing process refinement: Continually assess and refine operational procedures to cut down on wait times and boost overall efficiency.


An example of detention time in the trucking industry ?

Imagine a driver having an appointment for loading his semi truck at 9:00 AM, but the staff is not ready when the driver is coming, due to problems in the preparation phase. Because docks are not available, the truck will only be loaded 3 hours later, at 12:AM. The detention time would be 3 hours. 

Are there 2 types of detention time ?

We often hear of 2 types of detention, even if we talked earlier of the driver, the shipper and the receiver. The most “common” detention times are those : 

  • Detention at shipper: this situation arises when a driver experiences delays at the shipper's location, waiting for the freight to be loaded onto their vehicle. Such delays are frequently the result of slow loading operations or hold-ups in getting the freight ready for transport.

Detention at receiver: occurs when a driver faces delays at the destination facility, waiting for the freight to be offloaded. These hold-ups are often due to reasons like docks not being ready or a lack of sufficient personnel.

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