September 1, 2023

Freight drivers feeling the effect of high diesel prices more than most

comparing unused cycle hours - freight drivers

It’s no surprise freight truck drivers are experiencing a rise in operating expenses due in large part to the price of gas. What may be surprising is just how much less they are driving because of it.

Truck drivers can be behind the wheel for a maximum of 11 hours (after 10 hours off duty) in a 24-hour timeframe, 60 hours on duty in seven consecutive days or 70 hours on duty in eight consecutive days. Following the recent headlines about the lack of freight truck drivers and the hardships of a driving job, are drivers actually using their maximum allotted time each month? Or are outside effects like inflation impacting drivers’ drive time?

Using the ELD data collected from our white-labeled load boards, we analyzed the number of hours undriven by drivers each month across the United States. As noted by the graph below, the percentage of unused potential has been increasing year over year. In fact, the percentage of hours left on average in a month has increased as much as 12 percent as recently as June.

Why are drivers leaving undriven hours on the table?

First, and most obvious, is what everyone is experiencing - the inflated cost of fuel. Drivers are paying upwards of $700-900 per tank to fill up, meaning they could pay nearly $2,000 per day if they spend 11 hours driving. With low margins as it is, some drivers may be choosing to stop driving rather than fill up again. In fact, we surveyed 915 drivers and of those that said they were driving less, 71 percent responded that it was due to the increased cost of fuel in combination with the stagnant wages they earn.

"... the problem is freight companies want you to haul their freight for $1.50 a mile and the fuel price is $6 a gallon. I have been driving since 1976 … and I've seen the same thing over and over again. When things get tight everybody wants to keep the same amount of money and they pawn it off on the drivers and have them hauling it at the same price or less money because of the fuel prices. 

That is why I will not pull cheap freight. I have dead-headed out of areas and I will continue to do that at a loss to meet before I will keep a cheap company in business by hauling their Freight for nothing and I'm going broke because of it."

- Charles Cash

Thirty-one percent of carriers in our survey responded they’ve seen a decline in demand - there simply is not enough for them to haul. Due in large part to inflation, post-pandemic demand has declined, leaving warehouses full and retailers slashing prices to clear overstocked store shelves. As a result, shippers simply do not have enough goods available to haul, leaving drivers less opportunity than they experienced in the past. Back-to-school and even holiday demand is on the horizon, so shippers may experience a swell in demand and growth in the number of loads available for hauling. 

Drivers are also experiencing long wait times picking up and delivering goods. It may be due to logistics at a facility or a lack of employees to manage pickups and deliveries. Drivers are even experiencing an increase in time spent trying to find parking, which may account for their decrease in hours of service. Twenty-nine percent of drivers surveyed responded that increased wait times were affecting their hours of service. 

“... we're putting up with longer wait times at shippers and receivers, employees taking their breaks on fuel islands, and not enough places to shut down for a 10-hour break.”

- Anonymous

why drivers are spending less time behind the wheel

In relation to the decreased demand is an increase in competition. With fewer goods to haul, drivers are scrambling for spot market hauls. Additionally, FreightWaves noted there was a 10 percent increase in drivers available for hire since the start of the pandemic. Another reflection of this trend is the Outbound Tender Reject Rate falling to 7.4 percent last month, down from 25 percent last year. Twenty percent of respondents to our survey noted higher competition for low-price hauls meant they were left without freight or chose to wait until they could capture something. 

“There’s an influx of inexperienced drivers that can be hired a lot cheaper than experienced drivers. It's all about money.”

- Anonymous

As more truck drivers leave the industry, some are simply taking up a second job to replace hours traditionally driven. Twelve percent of drivers responded they were driving less due to finding hours outside of trucking, early retirement, simply wanting to spend more time at home, and sickness. 

Finally, and maybe the most surprising was the blame placed on ELD mandates. Ten percent noted the “frustrating ELD rules” meant they were driving hours in a more restrictive way than they had driven before. Others noted ELDs made it complicated to understand when they could and couldn’t drive, which added up to fewer hours driven over the month.

What will the declining HOS lead to?

While we cannot predict the future, we expect, as the industry has experienced since the beginning of the pandemic, there will likely be a growing number of drivers who retire or leave their roles in the trucking industry to pursue new opportunities. There will likely be a balance between the number of loads and the number of drivers available, possibly causing the tracked hours of service to return to levels seen in previous years. What we do hope is that freight drivers are more valued and feel more valued because we cannot afford to lose them.

“Look around at the world today and try to find how trucking fits into these expectations.”

- Anonymous

Data source: FleetOps is embedded across multiple ELDs capturing hours of service data, location data, carrier preferences, and engine data. These visuals are based on a random sample of 2000 drivers active in the 2021 and 2022 calendar years. It is a year-over-year comparison of the unused total cycle hours by drivers in our system.  Our charts are meant to share a perspective on the spot-freight market, not to be used in making business decisions. 

Survey details

Time: July 2022 

Participants: 915 carriers

  • Owner Operator
  • Driver
  • Dispatcher

52.1% reported spending less time behind the wheel

47.5% reported spending more time behind the wheel

323 responded why they are spending less time behind the wheel:

  1. Rising cost of fuel/rising cost to operate a truck
  2. Declining demand from shippers
  3. Increased wait times loading/unloading and finding parking
  4. Too many drivers/competition for freight
  5. Want to drive less due to retirement, getting a second job in a different industry, and illness
  6. ELD mandates are confusing

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