Standby Truck Drivers Explained: What They Cost and Why Shippers Use Them


As you may or may not be aware, nothing (outside of death and taxes) is truly guaranteed in life. When it comes to managing your transportation supply chain, however, some things get you closer to “guaranteed delivery” than others. 

Giving a transportation company 48 hours of lead time instead of six, for example, greatly improves your chances of receiving quality, cost-effective coverage. 

But even still, nothing is really “guaranteed” to you.

That said, when managed correctly — and when it makes sense to do so — employing a “standby” driver for a shipment can edge companies ever closer to 100 percent delivery assurance. Could using “standby” drivers help your business going forward?

Here at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), our 67 years in the transportation industry have taught us many things; the importance of great partnership, the impact of proper planning and more about moving freight than we’d care to admit… seriously, it’s getting embarrassing. 

In this article, we’ll leave you with some important insights concerning the use of “standby” truck drivers, including how they’re used and what they cost so that you can decide whether this service would benefit your business. 

What is a Standby Truck Driver?

A “standby” truck driver is an extra “power unit” (driver-tractor combo) supplied by a transportation company as a reserve option for a shipment or set of shipments. This driver is used as a fallback solution if, for one reason or another, the primary truck driver is unable to fulfill their duties by delivering a load on schedule. In these instances, a driver on standby will step in and haul an original shipment to its final destination. 

What is the Advantage of Using a Standby Driver?

For companies with freight to move — especially on a tight schedule — booking a “standby” driver can become the ultimate safety net, guarding their timelines, customer relationships and business. 

Often, without a secondary solution close by, companies face major delays when their initial truck/driver fails. Whether it’s due to a mechanical issue, a trucker’s hours of service (HOS) expiring or otherwise, locating and securing a replacement driver to finish a load’s transport is expensive in both time and money. 

Using a “standby” driver helps shippers avoid these costly delays. 

Instead of scrambling to secure a secondary solution — which in times of extreme urgency can cost far more — these businesses simply call on their “standby” to step in and continue on as scheduled. 


When Are Standby Drivers Typically Used?

Though “standby” truck drivers are useful for any shipment that unconditionally must reach its destination on time, this service is used in some industries more than others. 

Due to the tight timelines and strict deadlines accompanying their line of work, e-commerce, retail and food and beverage companies use standby drivers most frequently — especially during their peak seasons (Christmas, Black Friday, summer harvests, etc.)

That said, you’ll also see “standbys” used on project shipments where having load(s) reach their destination on time is more important than any cost incurred to do so. When crews are waiting at a job site and/or cranes are positioned at both ends of project loads, using “standby” drivers can be highly valuable.  

Related: Is Guaranteed On-Time Delivery Possible? [How You Can Help Make it Happen]

How Does Using a Standby Driver Impact Shipping Cost?

In the vast majority of cases, asking your transportation provider for a “standby” will double the price you pay (minus the cost of fuel, if that driver isn’t used). Trucking companies have an obligation to each of their drivers. And, since your “standby” has dedicated his/her on-duty service hours (hours of service) to your business they need to be compensated exactly like any other driver would be. 

For this reason, using a “standby” only makes financial sense when 100 percent, guaranteed service is needed

To avoid paying for the entirety of an unused “standby” driver’s day and receiving little (outside of peace of mind) in return, some shippers put them to work; having them move trailers and other equipment around facilities/job sites until they’re needed. 

Planning Your Next Shipment? There’s Plenty You Should Know

Now that you understand what “standby” truck drivers are, how using them will impact your timeline adherence and what you should expect to pay — should you decide they fit your needs — let’s take this one step further. 

You see, the transportation industry is brimming with unique service offerings, each designed to meet a different set of requirements. However, sometimes shippers struggle to match their needs to these services — especially with so many to choose from. 

Here at ATS, we’re looking to level the playing field by giving you the insights necessary for planning each of your shipments correctly the first time. To do so, our Learning Hub is updated with educational content multiple times per week. 

If you’d like to be notified each time we publish new articles, videos and downloadable tools, subscribe to our Learning Hub notifications today. We hope these resources help you on your journey toward becoming a business that always delivers for its customers.

Tags: Terminology

Eric Olson

Written by Eric Olson

Eric started his career with ATS in 2010 as a carrier representative at ATS Logistics. In 2013, Eric transitioned into the role of national accounts manager at ATS, Inc. and holds this same position today. Together with his team, Eric constantly works to come up with creative solutions that meet the changing needs of every ATS customer.

Get the Latest Content Straight to Your Inbox!

We Have a Podcast! Find Us on Your Favorite App.

Apple Podcasts logoSpotify logoGoogle Podcasts logoAmazon Music logoAmazon Music logo

Beyond the Road Podcast logo

Recent Posts

Work With a Transportation Provider You Can Trust

You don't want your freight in just anyone's hands. Find a transportation provider that cares about your safety and your reputation. Learn how ATS can help.

Connect With an Expert