As the nation grapples with the COVID-19 outbreak, it is trucking that will literally carry us through this crisis, says HDT Senior Editor Jack Roberts.  -  Photo: Deborah Lockridge

As the nation grapples with the COVID-19 outbreak, it is trucking that will literally carry us through this crisis, says HDT Senior Editor Jack Roberts.

Photo: Deborah Lockridge

North America has always depended on trucking. But now, as the COVID-19 crisis deepens, it is beginning to look like the United States, Canada and Mexico will depend on trucking in a way we have never experienced.

In this global crisis caused by the rapid spread of the coronavirus, it will literally be fleets and truck drivers who carry us through the dark days ahead and out to the other side.

We’re still in the early days of this outbreak. In his press briefing on March 16, President Trump admitted that the outbreak was “very bad,” and suggested that a best-case scenario for an end to the current guidelines of “social distancing” and quarantines could be July – with August or September more likely timelines.

In the meantime, it will be trucking that hauls the medical supplies, hand sanitizer, food, beverages, household goods, and – yes – toilet paper – millions of Americans will require in the days, weeks and months ahead.

If you’ve always pined for the days when truckers were considered Knights of the Highway, then history is knocking on the cab door of your truck.

What are you going to do?

It’s trucking’s time to shine in this crisis. I have no doubt the industry – and the men and women sitting behind the steering wheels in particular – are going to come through for all of us in spectacular fashion.

That said, as I view the current situation, there are a few things that need to happen.

First, from a very high level, the federal government needs to place the trucking industry at the very tip-top of the industries it is going to have to bail out as this pandemic unfolds.

I’m looking at you, American Trucking Associations. This is your time to shine, as well. It is vital right now that every American understands just how important trucking is going to be in the coming weeks and months and take steps now to ensure the industry stays viable and capable of meeting this historic challenge.

But wait a minute, you ask – if truckers are going to be so busy hauling all these critical goods, why might the industry need a bailout? Because it’s so diverse. For every fleet that’s scrambling to cover all those toilet paper loads for Costco, there’s another having to figure out how to suddenly reinvent its business because it specialized in hauling for events or serving the many restaurants, bars and other businesses that are closing during this crisis.

Cruise ships are fine, I guess (although I’ll be damned if I ever set foot on one again). But the cruise industry – and even the airlines – need to wait their turn until trucking is taken care of if the government starts handing out bailout cash. I doubt a cruise ship or a Boeing 747 is going to able to haul in a load of supplies to the Jitney Jungle in Belzoni, Mississippi, anytime soon. But I know damn good and well a tractor-trailer can.

Keeping the wheels rolling

On a more immediate level, fleet employees, warehouse workers, and drivers have a professional and patriotic duty to stay healthy and help contain the spread of the virus.

The country needs you all of you out there, making sure loads get dispatched and through to their destinations. But it’s also important to remember that while trucking is vitally important right now, it is also uniquely positioned to spread the disease even faster if people are careless.

If you need more information on COVID-19, where it came from and what you can do to stay healthy, check out this news story I wrote last week on that very subject.

The short version is, exercise extreme caution while you’re out on the road:

  • Limit your time around people and don’t congregate in groups larger than 10 people.
  • Wash or sanitize your hands a lot. Especially if you’ve been an any area where other people have been touching surfaces in the area.
  • Remember to keep you hands and fingers out of your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible.
  • Try to maintain about 6 feet of distance between yourself and someone you’re talking with.
  • Don’t shake hands.
  • Don’t eat at salad bars or buffets.
  • If you feel sick, immediately self-quarantine yourself as much as possible and get medical help as soon as possible.

Am overreacting to this threat? I don’t think so. As I was writing this blog, President Trump announced in a press conference that the number of infected persons in the U.S. is now over 4,500. A week ago, that number was just nearing 100 cases.

We all need to err to the side of caution right now. But it is vitally important for everyone in the trucking industry to do so, and keep the wheels turning, and the food, medicine, clothes, drinks and – yes, toilet paper – we all need on our shelves.

About the author
Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts

Executive Editor

Jack Roberts is known for reporting on advanced technology, such as intelligent drivetrains and autonomous vehicles. A commercial driver’s license holder, he also does test drives of new equipment and covers topics such as maintenance, fuel economy, vocational and medium-duty trucks and tires.

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