On the Road

Drivers Deserve Respect

The lack of respect for truck drivers and the driver shortage go hand-in-hand.

May 3, 2013

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Jim Park, Equipment Editor
Jim Park, Equipment Editor

Do you know what's lacking in trucking? Dignity. Simple dignity. If this sounds all soft and squishy, read on. I think I'll change your mind.

A chance meeting outside my hotel lobby one evening during the Mid-America Trucking Show last month provides a clue on how to avert a pending disaster.

Earlier in the day, I had moderated the Fleet Forum panel discussion on “Managing Your Fleet in the Real World” with HDT's 2013 Truck Fleet Innovators: Kevin Burch, president of Jet Express; Joe Cowan, president of Cowan Systems; Trent Dye, director of Paramount Freight Systems; and Robert E. Low, president of Prime Inc. These guys are no slouches in the fleet management world, but one reason for the shortage of qualified drivers was absent from the discussion at the forum.

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The fellow I was talking with outside my hotel was a software engineer with a stake in trucking's success. He had attended the Fleet Forum and indicated he found the discussion enlightening. He told me he was surprised that none of the panelists had mentioned the very basic requirement for fulfillment in life: the need to be treated with respect and dignity.

He suggested that drivers are not treated with a great deal of respect overall, and he was quite sure that anyone coming from almost any other trade or profession would find the drivers’ world nearly intolerable in a very short time.

He mentioned specifically the insanely narrow delivery windows drivers face despite weather and traffic conditions, the constant hounding by DOT inspectors, and being told — in words and deeds — that their time is worth nothing unless they are running down the road under a full head of steam.

This man made it quite clear that he'd need to be nearly destitute before he'd consider driving as way of making a living. He said there's no dignity in driving a truck. And he's right.

To those of us steeped in the culture, irritants like not being paid for loading and unloading, vehicle inspections and the like are standard operating procedure. To someone outside trucking, that would be abhorrent.

Another example: To run 2,500 miles in a week but to be paid only 2,450 because that's how far the computer says it is between two points — despite factors like construction-related detours — is beyond disrespectful.

We accept it because it has always been that way, or worse. But outsiders — those we are looking to recruit to fill truck seats — expect to be paid for the work they do, even if (and perhaps especially if) it's outside the normal call of duty.

The way drivers are treated by law enforcement is another cause for concern.

On a whim, any police officer can pull a truck over and strip a driver of half a week's pay with just a couple of citations, warranted or not. What's a driver to do, travel a thousand miles and miss a week's work to fight a $500 ticket? The cops know the driver is not coming back to fight the ticket, so it's easy money.

That sort of treatment is dehumanizing, but we rarely hear industry leaders decrying that kind of behavior. Driving certainly isn't a glamorous job, but drivers don't need to be treated like criminals.

Actually, criminals have more rights than drivers in some respects. They are at least assumed innocent until proven guilty. That's certainly not the case with CSA. Drivers give up a lot in the name of safety.

It's clear that the crowds of people who are not becoming truck drivers are not prepared to sacrifice their dignity to earn just a living wage.

Comments

  1. 1. Ronald Reed [ May 03, 2013 @ 06:28AM ]

    You missed one BIG problem! That is after driving for hours to deliever a load you find the receiver will not let you use the toilet or even worse you are put in a cage to check your load in and then told to sit in your truck. My wife and dog travels with me and at one large oil company we were told that my wife can not stay in the truck during the loading process, they had a cage out side in the rain for her and my dog to stay in, only took them 7 hours to load us? Then we were not loaded( needed the shipping papers) so i refused the load, made them unload us, picked up a wet and very unhappy wife and left. I was told we will never move product for them again. I could tell you many stories like this, No place to park but you are on a timer, have to drive in rush hour traffic instead of waiting for it to break because you'll run out of time. On and On

  2. 2. Kelly Frey - BihgRoad [ May 03, 2013 @ 07:59AM ]

    JIm,
    Thank you for such a thoughtful piece and highlighting this issue. I can't agree with you more about the systemic lack of driver respect and dignity in the trucking industry. It seems that each year the issue gets larger. I firmly believe (and sincerely hope) however that we may be entering into a new era of driver empowerment due to the increasing imperative for fleets to attract and hire safe and professional drivers, 'cause if they don't their fleet safety record is in jeopardy. Drivers need to expect and demand respect and dignity. One way for drivers to start this is to be the safest you can be, keep your records in order and always try to be professional in the face of indignity and shady fleet operators looking to take unfair advantage.
    Thx again for covering this issue
    Kelly Frey CEO and CoFounder
    BigRoad

  3. 3. Tanya Bons, Spirit CDL [ May 03, 2013 @ 08:41AM ]

    I'm the director/owner of a truck driving school so I'm putting guys/gals into the industry daily. Each potential driver is scrutinized from the top of the head down to their toes. Things they did years ago have to be explained and examined. What they eat, what they weigh, where they've worked, what they did last month and an accident that wasn't even their fault all come into play. The drivers are put under a microscope just to get the job and then they are pushed to break laws, sleep deprived, living on garbage, sleeping on a bunk and missing their families all for a few cents a mile. The turnover rate is high and will remain high because we tell our students not to put up with this treatment for more than a year. "Do your year and move on", that's our advice and it will stay that way until the industry changes the way they treat drivers.

    Drive safe!

  4. 4. Ed [ May 03, 2013 @ 12:10PM ]

    I have truly been thinking of finishing my working career operating a big rig. Just can't get it out of my head. This article is really scary!!

  5. 5. Allen Smith [ May 05, 2013 @ 09:21AM ]

    Thank you Jim, I'm glad to see an article written with such truth and insight. Thank you also to those who took the time and commented on this thread, your input is also invaluable
    Being a professional driver and advocate for drivers, this is not something new for me. I suspect it's also not new to the industry itself, however, whenever the cry for truck driver shortage is made, these issues of respect and lack of dignity don't ever come to light by those who are trying to resolve their shortage and retention/turnover rate problems.
    The failure rate for 1st year drivers is high, most not aware of the conditions, sacrifices, and the career expectations they were getting into.

    Another case of lack of respect would be the anti- idling laws, where drivers are expected to "sleep" in conditions that most would not subject their pets to. These are the same drivers who are expected to be safe on the road, taking mandatory hours to rest in order to maintain public safety.
    Jeff Barker, a driver and columnist for LandLine magazine will be addressing these issues this year at the Trucking Social Media Convention in Kansas City,MO at Harrah's this October. His topic of discussion is Truck Driver Wages and the Truck Driver Shortage. Jeff has decided to title his presentation this year
    “More Respect and Wages- How bad do you want it?”
    I believe all those attending will be enlightened and hopefully these truths will eventually extend to the general public who see drivers and trucks as a nuisance and also offer little respect or dignity themselves to our professional drivers who sacrifice so much in order that others have all their needs and wants.

  6. 6. TruckerDesiree [ May 05, 2013 @ 09:46AM ]

    Thank you for such greatt insight. The job of the truck driver is an honorable profession, those who do it well despite conditions deserve respect inside the industry but in trade conferences and periodicals rarely are the conditions mentioned that contribute to turnover.
    Being provoked run when physically you feel you are being run into the ground ,, poor equipment, impractical scheduling week after week, spoken down to by dispachers who are paid bonuses to get drivers to "perform" but have never seen the interior of a rig themselves to understand the living conditions.
    Would it be acceptable in the office cubicle after 3 or 4 days with no shower? Then why is this time not scheduled in when these loads booked? The driver is the face of the organization. Whenever someone tells me they attended a trucking event for industry I ask them "Did you find it odd they avoid talking about the human component?" And they agree that "yes". There is something missing. Migrant workers are treated better than some carriers treat drivers and that goes for the shippers/receivers as well. The lumpers are often treated better than the drivers at some facilities. I hope more people will write on this topic in industry publications. Its as plain as day why the turnover rate is so incredibly high."

  7. 7. sue [ May 07, 2013 @ 02:29PM ]

    You absolutely have to be in love with it to put up with it. Each and everything that is said here is the absolute truth. I have been driving for 35 years and spent only 5 years OTR. I miss it but I sure don't miss the politics. I is a no where job of thankless deliveries. It is sad, it could be so much more.

  8. 8. sue [ May 07, 2013 @ 02:29PM ]

    You absolutely have to be in love with it to put up with it. Each and everything that is said here is the absolute truth. I have been driving for 35 years and spent only 5 years OTR. I miss it but I sure don't miss the politics. I is a no where job of thankless deliveries. It is sad, it could be so much more.

  9. 9. Jeff Allen [ May 20, 2013 @ 11:16AM ]

    It's important to remember that drivers need to act responsibly and earn respect. Acting like an overgrown five year old and claiming at the same time that you're not treated with respect is absurd. Be a mature professional and if the company fails to treat you as such, then find a company that will reciprocate.

    Jeff

  10. 10. JBD [ November 22, 2013 @ 05:07PM ]

    You hit the nail on the head. But it won't get better because the trucking companies won't do anything about it until they have 1,000,000 trucks setting empty and truck driving schools can't lie enough anymore to get anyone to drive a truck anymore. And they can't bring any overseas drivers in either!

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Author Bio

Jim Park

Equipment Editor

Truck journalist 13 years, commercial driver 20 years. Joined us in 2007. Specializes in technical/equipment material (including Tire Report), brings real-world perspective to test drives.

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