Thursday, March 14 2019
ORLANDO, Fla. — In recognition of Women’s History Month in America, this story is dedicated to some who have confronted sexism and long workdays, along with the hazards of truck driving go beyond personal safety. Big-rig driving is listed among the most dangerous occupations in 2017 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some 840 truckers died that year, the highest number for the category since the BLS started keeping track in 2003.
Trucking companies have made training programs more appealing to women in the hopes it will help the carriers expand their driver applicant pool and allow them to attract more female truck drivers. It’s only taken a labor shortage, lawsuits and the rise of gender-specific driver support groups for trucking carriers to change their training programs to be more welcoming to women.
The risk to truckers, both male and female, is not just crashes, it's also their lifestyle. A 2015 study published by the Centers for Disease Control found more than two-thirds were obese. About half were smokers, more than twice what's found in the general population. And although they face mandated rest periods, about one in four were averaging less than six hours of sleep a night.
Data shows women truck drivers are generally safer than men. Experts think it's because they are less likely to take risks. Women new to the trucking world, particularly younger ones, say they want to help change long-haul trucking and in the process, improve its image.
Biology and Psychology
A female trucker’s reticence to exhibit risky behavior is partly biological, according to Ellen Voie, chief executive and founder of Women in Trucking Association.
Crashes involving women typically occur at slower speeds and result in less damage to the truck, she said. Psychology also plays a role, said Laura McMillan, vice president of Training Program Development at Instructional Technologies Inc.
Women are more willing to admit what they don’t know, ask for help, and listen and learn, especially from others who are competent and display safe behaviors, McMillan said.
“Women seem to connect the dots that they are driving large equipment in high-speed environments and modify their behavior,” said McMillan, who has trained women seeking commercial driver’s licenses.
Motivated by Safety
Female truckers will quit over poorly maintained equipment or the lack of a safety culture. They care about things such as whether a dispatcher considers the safety of locations to which they are sent and factors like bad weather conditions, according to Stay Metrics, which counsels carriers and shippers on driver retention.
Collecting data about how female drivers perceive safety is new for the industry, said Voie, who managed recruitment and retention programs for Schneider National, a large carrier and logistics supplier.
By the Numbers
Women accounted for 7.89 percent of truck drivers in 2017, up from 7.13 percent in 2016, according to the National Transportation Institute, a research organization that collects data regarding driver wages, benefits and retirement plans from hundreds of trucking firms.
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