NEED TO KNOW: A trucker's guide to hauling disaster relief loads

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 9/20/2017

Natural disasters have caused significant damage to the United States this year, increasing the demand for truckers to haul disaster relief loads. Over the past several weeks, truckers have encountered some atypical issues while hauling loads for relief efforts. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has put together a guide to avoid problems characteristic of disaster relief loads.

OOIDA’s Business and Regulatory Services department has been receiving several calls regarding bad deals on disaster relief loads. In most of these cases, it was the driver who made the mistakes with the contract. Here are tips to avoid a disaster with disaster relief loads.

Carve out enough time
According to Scott Grenerth, OOIDA regulatory specialist, one of the biggest mistakes drivers make is underestimating the time it takes to haul a load for disaster relief. If truckers think they can simply pick up and drop off like any other load, they may be severely disappointed.

Typically, a disaster relief load will have drivers away for several days or weeks. In more rare cases, a trucker can be stuck on one load for a month or longer. Long story short: Clear your calendar.

Hurricanes are unpredictable and can change course at any time. Truckers were staged in one part of Florida ahead of Hurricane Irma. However, the storm suddenly moved, forcing drivers to relocate to the updated predicted disaster area. As Grenerth put it, expect the unexpected.

In one example, a trucker hauled a disaster relief load of ice to Texas. The driver was there for a week before the load could be delivered. He was then dispatched to Florida for a second drop, told to drop his trailer he owns and someone else will deliver and return. In the end, the original load took three weeks to complete.

“Think in terms of days, not hours,” Grenerth said.

Downtime compensation
Considering disaster relief loads take a lot of time, most of which is spent waiting around, truckers need to be absolutely sure they have rate confirmation that they fully understand and agree to. Be wary of “too good to be true” rates.

During Hurricane Katrina relief, truckers for 4 Points Logistics were told they would be paid $60 an hour for detention time, with no limit on the numbers of hours of detention per day. However, drivers were only paid for 10 hours of detention time for every 24 hours. Truckers argued that they were technically on duty 24/7 with the hours-of-service exemptions in place. Drivers were held in staging areas for an average of 10 days.

Drivers should not expect to get paid for every hour of the day, regardless of HOS exemptions. However, Jerry Bartley, OOIDA regulatory specialist, emphasized the importance of looking over the detention layover time on the rate sheet to ensure that they will be paid for standard hours on duty, which is now 11 hours a day.

How much should a driver expect to get paid in detention time? That depends on a variety of factors. OOIDA’s Business Services recommends figuring out the cost of daily operations and working from there. Some disaster relief load contracts can pay by the hour, whereas other contracts may pay by the day.

Bottom line: Make sure detention time is paid and that it exceeds operating costs. This may seem like Business 101, but a lot of truckers fall victim to the simplest mistakes when negotiating a disaster relief load.

OOIDA’s Trucking Tools webpage has several resources to help drivers calculate operating costs.

“They say ‘buyer beware’ but this is ‘trucker beware,’” Bartley said.

Bill of lading and broker authority
Grenerth recommends to “always count the load and if you are prohibited from counting, note “driver not allowed on dock, shipper load and count” or “said to contain” on the bill of lading.” Failing to do so may lead to the driver being responsible for any overages, shortages or damages. If that were to happen, the driver essentially delivered the load for free. Worst case scenario could involve a cross-collateralization clause in the contract.

This may be stating the obvious, but drivers need to ensure their carrier name is listed as the carrier of record on the bill of lading. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Also, make sure the broker has an active authority. The bond or trust should be listed as valid as well.

The good and the bad
OOIDA has good and bad examples of disaster relief load situations.

Remember the trucker hauling ice to Texas and then to Florida? He spent three weeks on the trip and the payment for detention time is currently in question. Why? Detention time was not spelled out in the rate confirmation.

In another scenario, FEMA was holding onto a loaded trailer that was triple brokered. According to Grenerth, the original rate confirmation sheet for the disaster relief load included all pertinent details. This included being paid a fee for each day the trailer was detained. The final rate confirmation from the second broker did not have those details specified and had no provision for detention compensation. It read as if this was a standard two or three day haul, but paid “extremely well.” As of last contact, the driver was still sitting there for two weeks and counting, with no pay for detention.

Conversely, a trucker picking up generators mounted on flatbeds had a better experience. Generators were taken to Alabama to be staged prior to the hurricane making landfall. Truckers were sitting there for three days ahead of time. Originally destined for Tampa, plans were changed and the load was redirected to a USPS facility for power. Hazmat restrictions required fuel to be drained from the generators by local contractors before moving. The driver spent a week with the load and was paid for a full day each day.

Another driver picked up a load of wooden flooring in Texas to be used under a large tent for a disaster relief operation. The load was set to go to Jackson, Miss., and redirected to Baton Rouge halfway through the trip. Turns out, Baton Rouge had already received the wooden flooring, forcing the driver to return the load to Texas. Because of carefully reviewing the contract, the driver was compensated for all miles and time spent, despite the load returning to the shipper.

For more information, listen to Land Line Now's interview with a three-person panel regarding disaster relief loads:

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