Livable Cities & Resilient Infrastructure
Trucking life: the challenges of being a trucker PART 1
Trucking life is a difficult. There are numerous untold challenges of being a trucker that the average person does not understand.
Yet trucking is an essential occupation for the world’s economy and daily life. Communities depend on trucks for the delivery of everyday goods and supplies, ranging from fuel, food, medicine, etc. If trucks stopped service for even a few days, it would affect every element of our lives.
Think about it.
Gas stations would run out of fuel, ATMs would exhaust their cash supply, garbage would pile up on the streets and essential supplies would disappear. That’s not mentioning the impact on the millions of daily deliveries to consumers and businesses.
Trucking’s contribution to the economy
Trucks move more than 70% of all freight in the U.S. alone, which represents in excess of $730 billion in gross freight revenue, employing 7.65 million people in related activities.
Despite the vital role truck drivers play, it turns out they have one of the lowest career satisfaction rates, according to careerexplorer.com.
Let’s face it, the job is no walk in the park. Drivers face burnout from long hours on the road, far from home trying to make deliveries on time while warding-off drowsiness.
Many of the challenges are as universal as they are specific. FUSO’s Big Rig Blues chronicles the struggles of Japanese truckers, which mirror many of those in the U.S. and around the world.
In this article, we’ll look at 5 challenges faced by truck drivers on a daily basis.
Difficult truck driving schedules
There are different types of truckers. The main three are over-the-road (OTR) or long-haul truckers, regional, and local truckers. Conditions vary depending on the nature of the work, but many drivers begin their shifts before dawn in order to avoid traffic and provide essential deliveries prior to regular working hours.
In the U.S. the department of transportation allows OTR truckers to drive up to 11 hours per day. This means they will travel anywhere from 500 to 650 miles per day (800 – 1,050 km). This can mean significant time away from home, up to weeks at a time.
In Japan, in a 2020 survey, more than 50% of drivers among common carriers drove more than 6,000 km per month (3,750 miles).
While local truckers operate in a more defined radius, many face strict deadlines due to the pressure to make quick deliveries. This can be difficult when making multiple deliveries, which requires carefully planned routes and backup plans to avoid traffic and accidents.
Many delivery services have begun employing route optimization software for just this reason.
Truck driver fatigue and ergonomics
Truck drivers are stuck at the wheel for extended periods. Adjusting one’s posture while keeping an eye on the road isn’t always easy. But more than that, depending on the vehicle, the seat may have limited adjustability and a poor height-to-posture ratio. After all, drivers have a variety of body shapes. Steering wheel and pedal positions can result in awkward postures.
Drivers are also exposed to vibrations from the vehicle. These can vary according to the condition of the truck and load. Repetitive gear shifting with manual transmissions can also lead to discomfort over time.
According to the University of Waterloo, occupational drivers are at an increased risk for developing musculoskeletal disorders, especially lower back and shoulder pain. Arthritis is common among veteran drivers.
What to do about it
Recommended actions include daily exercise routines, using accessories like small pillows for lumbar support, and regularly adjusting the seat for comfort.
In fact, outside of driver actions, a fundamental way to reduce the road’s impact on the body is with a proper seat. A good seat should allow for height, horizontal, and backrest angle adjustment, according to Dr. Joseph J. Sweere, a chiropractic orthopedic specialist.
Furthermore, seats with a massage feature could further assist with driver comfort, particularly if used 20 minutes before exiting a vehicle.
More technically advanced features include the introduction of Automated Manual Transmissions (AMT) and electric trucks which facilitate gear-shifting & reduce vibrations respectively.
Drowsiness on the road
A 2018 study found that 20 to 30% of truck drivers suffer unspecified sleeping disorders, while insomnia was found in 28% and sleep apnea in 25-50%.
The average adult needs seven to nine hours of sleep each night, but a majority of truck drivers in the study reported less than six hours of sleep each night.
This coupled with their irregular sleeping patterns, long stretches behind the wheel and long workweeks make chronic fatigue commonplace.
Is there hope?
While there is no quick fix, there are steps both drivers and companies can take to reduce the burden.
Trucker Mike from the Trucking Truth blog introduces a common saying; “Drive when you have to, sleep when you can.” This speaks to drivers’ irregular schedules. However, companies can greatly help by maintaining consistent work shifts and reducing changes to a driver’s routine.
This may require software-augmented fleet management or various other technologies. Electronic logging devices, for example, track a driver’s working hours and status. These are also mandated in some jurisdictions.
Companies can also utilize monitoring systems that trigger warnings if a driver’s eyelids close for prolonged periods.
In the end, a combination of low and high-tech solutions could dramatically improve driver working conditions, comfort, and safety on the road.
In part two of our trucking life series, we will explore two more issues contributing to the challenges of being a trucker.
Read Part 2 next week!
For more information on this topic, check out our article on the humanity of truck drivers.