Sustainable Supply Chain
Humanity of Truck Drivers
As excited as the world is for self-driving vehicles, one fact will remain true for the foreseeable future: without truck drivers, society would be at a complete standstill. How then can drivers be treated more fairly?
This is a brief introduction on the Humanity of Truck Drivers — to find ways of improving the collective wellbeing of the people who keep the world moving.
More than 80% of all that we can touch or see in our built environment has spent part of its life on a truck.
International Road Transport Union
Truck drivers and the work that they do lie at the very core of our society’s ongoing ability to function. Without their contribution, we cannot eat, drink, buy, build or even move. Without truck drivers, society grinds to a halt. They provide one of the most crucial services to a thriving society, and yet all over the world, their working and living conditions do not match their contributions.
According to a survey, in the US, drivers work 50% more hours than other industries—much of which are unpaid ‘waiting’ time—and have seen their wages decrease almost threefold in the last three decades. In the EU, according to the International Road Transport Workers’ Federation, some drivers from Eastern Europe are paid as little as €1.70/hr., and forced to sleep in their cabs for months at a time (ITF, 2018).
These conditions lead to deeply troubling effects on truck drivers’ mental and physical wellbeing. A 2018 study found that ‘their overall health, and especially their mental health, is very often worse than the general population as a consequence of long driving shifts, disrupted sleep patterns, chronic fatigue, social isolation, compelling service duties, delivery urgency, job strain, low rewards, and unsystematic medical control’. An earlier study in the Journal of Mental Health Nursing reported that nearly 27% of American truck drivers reported experiencing depression, while only 5% sought medical or psychological help.
These working conditions seem to be the inevitable outcomes of the world’s dominant logistical philosophy. Pushing always for greater efficiency, lower-costs and leaner operations, our supply chains are constantly on the verge of transferring more risk and precarity to its workers. Rather than focusing only on the symptoms of this systemic worker disenfranchisement, we also need to challenge and propose alternatives to their structural roots to improve the wellbeing of drivers.
Looking beyond the impacts on truck drivers and their families, numerous studies have also shown that overworked and underpaid truck drivers make roads less safe. Decreasing pay coupled with increased job strain, long working hours and days on the road lead to higher rates of accidents; according to the U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the number of injury crashes involving large trucks or buses increased 62% between 2009 – 2016. In a world where road traffic injuries are considered a major global health crisis, we should be paying more attention to its avoidable underlying causes.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of truck drivers for everyone, everywhere, and yet it’s increasingly difficult to find bright examples from any part of the world where working and living conditions fully respect their humanity, dignity and indispensable role within society.
What areas can we look into to merge technology with improvements to the wellbeing of drivers? Are there quick wins that exist in this space? Or do solutions require more structural changes?