In our article about unaccompanied freight published last month we defined this type of movement as the transport of wheeled freight without the driver and cab being present during the sea crossing. However, sending freight 'Driver Accompanied' may be far more advantageous for some companies.
For shipments to mainland Europe, driver accompanied remains the most popular choice by some margin. According to statistics recently released by the Department for Transport (DoT), a total of 752 thousand road goods vehicles travelled from Great Britain to mainland Europe between April and June 2017 (Quarter 2) this year and 74% of them were driver accompanied.
Often companies need the flexibility that comes from a driver accompanied operation. A driver who travels with his cargo maintains full control throughout the journey, acting like a courier, making decisions throughout the journey to avoid delays. He literally drives his vehicle on board ensuring that the cargo is safely loaded and that a specific ferry departure time has been achieved. Accompanied freight check-in times at ports are typically shorter whereas unaccompanied freight will be subject to much earlier cut-off times.
That's not to say that unaccompanied freight is unable to meet strict deadlines. An unaccompanied operation can quite closely mimic the equivalent driver accompanied journey. However, with unaccompanied movements there is usually an extended time delay both at the port of departure and at the port of arrival to allow for port operations to complete loading and unloading activities. Furthermore, to work successfully they usually require sizeable infrastructure and large volumes of freight units, preferably with similar repeated daily patterns of work.
Unaccompanied freight that arrives too late at a port and misses a planned departure will normally be loaded on the next available ferry, with the same ferry operator from the same port. However, accompanied freight may switch to another ferry service with a similar sailing time to avoid upsetting their scheduled delivery. The driver may even decide to go to another port to safeguard a promised delivery time. For example, missing a ferry from Heysham might mean a driver heading for Cairnryan to still achieve a delivery the next day in Belfast.
Equally, the driver may find a return load where it is more beneficial to travel back via another port. This flexibility isn't so easy to achieve with a much more controlled unaccompanied operation. Where routes, pickup points and delivery points do not follow a particular pattern or frequency then the accompanied operation becomes the logical preference.
The urgency of some deliveries such as perishable foodstuffs, retail products and vital components will often involve late cut off times for production, order picking and completion of packaging and loading. We order something today and want it the next day. Supermarkets for instance demand utmost freshness which means that demand fulfilment runs down to the wire throughout the supply chain; transport has to respond with 100% reliability. Critical delivery times may be timed to the minute. In many cases the exact time frames and delivery slots are essential for a secure supply. This can only be met when the driver travels the entire journey with the same freight unit.
Both accompanied and unaccompanied freight methods have their place. Unaccompanied movements can reduce costs and achieve high standards of reliability, while accompanied freight offers a flexible operation with greater control.