Over the decades, drivers have always faced an element of danger. Back in the day it was an excess of narrow 2 lane roads, little or no snow removal, and poor communication between drivers and their employers. They had pay phones, CB radios and little else.
Today we have one of the world’s most impressive interstate highway systems. Yet Time Magazine still lists truck driving as 7th in it’s list of Top 10 Most Dangerous Jobs In America. Why are truckers still at risk with all the industry advancements?
The Other Industries Have Also Improved Their Safety
Loggers still top the list with a fatality rate of 135.9 per 100,000 in 2016. As bad as that is, we know the rate was considerably higher in the post WWII baby boom 50s and 60s. Old technology and the pressure of keeping up with building demands helped keep logging at the top of the dangerous job list.
Modern GPS systems and giant leaps in weather forecast technology have not only improved safety for truckers, it has saved thousands of lives in the airline and shipping industry. Ship wrecks and airline fatalities have dramatically dropped over the decades.
Along with the interstate freeway system, the trucking industry has the benefits of communication systems we couldn’t have imagined in the past. Trucks are tracked via satellite and cell tower. And oh, the cameras, they’re everywhere.
Let’s just call it a given that each of the 6 industries ahead of us on the danger list have also advanced. So way is truck driving still on the list? Let’s look at 7 top reasons.
Winter Weather Conditions
Weather is probably one of the first things that come to mind in the list of trucking’s hazards. Trucks keep rolling in all but the worst of conditions. Although many do park and wait out the big storms, a good percentage of trucks generally push on as long as the road is open.
We’ve all driven by the jackknifed trucks in the ditch after a big storm. Although the truck and trailer are heavily damaged, the drivers usually walk away. Those foggy freeway pileup videos also go viral, but those types of chain collisions are quite uncommon.
By far, the crowded highways of summer claim more lives and cause more injuries than winter storms. More families are on the road for summer vacations. Slow trucks and even slower RVs on heavily congested highways frustrate drivers of all sized vehicles.
We all know that over 80% of accidents involving big trucks are caused by 4-wheelers. The heavier the traffic, the greater number of collisions, injuries and fatalities. Trucks are nowhere near as nimble or maneuverable as those minivans and SUVs. In fact, those 4-wheelers aren’t even as nimble as their drivers might think.
Heavy traffic, aggressive driving and today’s high rate of distracted driving due to cell phones are causing wrecks at an alarming rate. Although the rate of fatalities per thousand is down slightly, the total number of fatalities are up with the higher amount of people travelling.
Truck Driver Fatigue
One would think the federally mandated E-log enforcement that kicked in back in 2017 would have eliminated the driver fatigue issue, but that’s not the case. Drivers no longer have the luxury of waiting out the rush hour by grabbing a meal, going for a walk or taking a nap. Today drivers fight the traffic like everyone else in an effort to maximize their 11 hours of allowable driving time within the government mandated 14-hour window.
Truck drivers are also required to take a 30 minute break within 8 hours of “logging on.” Common sense dictates working 6 hours before you take a break, otherwise the driver risks having to take another 30 minutes off before the 14-hour clock runs out. Truckers no longer take breaks when they need or want them. They take a break when the E-log forces them. Many times it will be at the side of the highway, sitting in the cab with the emergency lights on.
Truck Parking – Or Lack Thereof
Shortages of truck parking in this country are nothing new. Today we have a mix of causes for the truck parking shortage. This shortage is made up of several components. Here are a few big ones.
- Large companies force their drivers to fuel where the parking is severely limited.
- Due to a lack of paying customers, the truck stops with larger lots are closing at a record rate.
- Trucking companies require drivers to avoid toll roads by taking surface routes that may not have truck parking available.
- The new Hours of Service and its hard enforcement has too many trucks stopping at the same time. This puts even more pressure on the few spots available.
- The booming economy has more freight being shipped, equaling more trucks on the road. Even more pressure on available parking is the result.
I could go on and on with this list, but the parking issue is another part of driver fatigue. When one is forced to park for 10 hours in an abandoned lot, on an off ramp or some other isolated makeshift spot, that driver sleeps with one eye open. The driver must always be aware of the dangers.
“Oh, The Places You Will Go”
Yes, I did steal a Dr. Seuss quote there. But unlike the book, many of these places aren’t good. Truckers drive, deliver and pick up in some of the worst parts of America’s cities. This makes us targets. Even in some of the truck stops, a driver can be easily victimized. Truckers have been awakened abruptly in the middle of the night and robbed at gunpoint. Even parked within the false security of a big named truck stop, robberies occur.
Dangerous Tasks That Come With Trucking
Everything from tarping a load of lumber to installing snow chains on the side of a highway bring dangerous risks. It comes with the territory. Loading and unloading freight, picking up and dropping trailers and other mundane tasks are known to cause personal injury. It comes with the job.
High Turnover And Poor Training
In an industry with a turnover rate of over 100%, some companies burn through drivers. Because of this high turnover rate, the training is less than stellar. Let’s just say the poor training and lack of experience is a safety risk upon itself. Inexperience is a huge factor in all of the above risk factors.
Missing from this list is driver health. Is it a risk factor? Certainly, but it’s not a risk factor unique to trucking. If a driver wants to blame his poor health on a career choice, he’s welcome to do so. But I don’t buy it.
If you’re overweight, eating garbage and failing to exercise in any meaningful manner, it’s your personal choice. I know fat accountants, bankers, etc., trucking can’t be an excuse for bad behavior.
This Author’s Opinion
Again, this post is number 3 in a series. As a reminder, we started with the question “Is Trucking Worth It?” We answered that question with a resounding YES! Trucking is an adventure, a lifestyle and a great career choice. Hard work, common sense and street smarts will protect most drivers from the overwhelming dangers any driver will encounter.
The lanes you run, where you park and what you haul will all play into your ability to keep safe. How you handle the dangers of the job and what you refuse to do will also make or break you. If you want a better life, job or improved fitness, make better choices.
Other Show Notes
Chevy Colorado airbags deploying in light off-roading applications. I found this one at Jalopnik.com.
While we’re on the Jalopnik kick, how about a Flying Jeep?
Truck owner fakes her own kidnapping to avoid meeting payroll. From NewsWeek.com.
Trucks left to burn in I5 fire, from Overdriveonline.com.