ELDs Increase Demand for Team Drivers: 4 Ways to Mitigate Risk and Expense

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In the world of over-the-road trucking, a “tweener” load is loosely defined as one with a length of haul between 500 and 700 miles. It’s called a tweener because, distance-wise, it falls on the cusp between a one-day and two-day transit.

Tweeners have long been a mainstay for shippers that need overnight and rush deliveries, and a sweet spot for some carriers because they allow drivers to turn more miles per day. However, ELDs track and record true hours-of-service digitally, revealing the new tweener problem to solo drivers:

  • A driver can only drive 11 hours continuously before taking a break
  • 11 hours allows for 500 to 600 miles at most on a typical day
  • Dwell time, appointment times, inclement weather, road construction, and other factors further limit the number of miles a driver can complete
  • Hours-of-service violations come with fines and out-of-service penalties for drivers and carriers

Now that the ELD Mandate is in place, and hours-of-service are being strictly enforced in most states, tweener shipments that used to deliver within 24 hours are no longer possible. As a result, shippers are left unprepared and scrambling to secure team drivers to avoid disruptions or delays. Carriers are working to assemble teams to meet the increased need, but such teams are scarce and costly. As we move toward full ELD enforcement on April 1, will team driver demand continue to increase, or will supply chains evolve so that teams are not as critical?  Time will tell.

Tweener Loads and Shrinking Carrier Margins

Truckers can no longer skew paper logs to complete runs for shippers, and strict hours-of-service compliance has quickly become the norm. After switching from paper logs, early ELD adopters saw a nearly 6 percent decrease in productivity, and experts expect as much as a 12 percent drop from drivers who habitually skirted the rules.

The margin squeeze due to ELDs has led carriers to assess break points between loads to understand which they can realistically complete in a single day, and which must be stretched across two. Carriers have a set “revenue per day” that they must hit to maintain profitability, so they must charge more per day than they have in the past to stay afloat. When a load must be stretched to two days, the cost per load increases exponentially; and when a load requires team drivers, shippers should expect to pay an added premium on top of that.

Tweener Loads and Team Driver Issues

Team driving has become a go-to solution for just-in-time shipments, recovery loads, and seasonal surges. With teams, a truck can keep moving for up to 20 hours without a break because the two drivers trade off at the wheel. They also make loading, inspections, and other duties go faster.

While that’s a relief for shippers with expedited or overnight loads that must travel 700 to 800 miles of highway, reliable team drivers can be difficult to come by. In fact, team drivers are in such high demand that some carriers are offering huge signing bonuses – $40,000 in one case – to attract more to their fleets.

Team driver loads are also expensive and can be risky. Aside from paying a premium for two drivers, a lack of seasoned teams means that many team drivers available on short notice will be new to the job or inadequately trained. That translates to more service failures, such as missed delivery windows and damaged freight. And, because demand is growing, the ongoing ability to source quality teams is increasingly difficult (Global Trade).

4 Ways to Mitigate Risk and Expense

To avoid problems caused by unreliable teams and keep unforeseen costs under control, shippers should consider the following:

  1. Require proof that there will be two drivers on all team loads by asking for the cell phone number of both drivers and/or confirming the presence of two drivers on the dock at the time of loading. Please note, when a driver is off duty or on break, he or she is not permitted to answer work-related phone calls or check in at a loading dock, so any communication to confirm multiple drivers should happen with the dispatcher or on-duty driver (not the driver who is on a break).
  1. Create flexibility where possible by adjusting shipping windows from one day to two, providing ample lead times on pickups, offering flexible pickup dates and hours, etc.
  1. Use drop trailer pools instead of live loading, where possible, to optimize scheduling and load times.
  1. Rethink network optimization by choosing vendors and suppliers that eliminate the need for tweener transits and driver teams.

Tweener Loads and Driver Efficiency 

While team drivers can benefit from the current climate, the ELD mandate’s effects on loads, pricing, and options will continue to evolve over time. Shippers that make driver efficiency a priority will have an edge over others who ignore the mandate or pressure carriers to break the rules. Instead, planning loads around driver and carrier requirements will reduce the possibility of fines, increase on-time deliveries, and earn your shipments preferred standing among carriers.   

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