This is truly a strange time for truck drivers. Much of the world is in shutdown mode or working from home, while shipping demands skyrocket. In addition to the much-publicized hoarding of everything from toilet paper to hand sanitizer to more toilet paper, there is, and will be, a real need to get emergency medical supplies – masks, ventilators, drugs, personal protective equipment (PPE) and more – to where they’re needed. All this on top of the fact that even if people aren’t going to work, they, and their families, still need to eat and drink.
And this panic buying due to fears of shortages is quite real: the US saw a one-day 60% jump in shipments to grocery stores, in the UK demand for hand sanitizer jumped 255%, in Italy pasta sales rose 51% and Australian shoppers stripped shelves bare.
And many of these goods have to be trucked from one place to another. The strain on the system has become so great that governments are suspending many regulations originally introduced to protect driver safety. In the US, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCA) issued its first ever nationwide suspension of the hours-of-service (HOS) rules – 82-year-old rules which limit drivers’ shifts. The same goes for Europe and the UK where restrictions on the number of hours drivers can work have also been eased. In Australia, several states have lifted delivery truck curfews, allowing stores to receive goods 24 hours a day.
Of course, these regulatory suspensions come at a price to drivers – as drivers work longer shifts there is an increased risk of drowsy driving. According to the CDC, drowsy driving decreases drivers’ ability to pay attention to the road, slows reaction times, affects drivers’ ability to make decisions and plays a role in up to 6,000 fatal crashes annually in the US.
Not only that, but truckers looking for a break on the road face another problem – while some rest stops are adjusting to the new situation, others in the US, Canada and Australia are being shut down or their services severely curtailed, limiting drivers’ opportunity to pull over for a short rest or something to eat. Keep in mind that even in the best of times it can be challenging to find a place to park a large vehicle. Meanwhile, in Europe drivers face another challenge – after years of relatively open borders throughout the European Union, quarantines and other restrictions mean truckers may not be able to enter certain areas or have long waits at border crossings. All these factors increase the risk of driver fatigue.
In addition to these difficulties, being on the road leaves drivers much more exposed to Covid-19 compared to us at home. While they might be able to practice social distancing in their cabs, it’s hard to avoid contact with servers, fellow drivers and others.
There are some firms, such as JB Hunt in the US, that deserve a shout out for offering employees bonuses, in order to show their “appreciation for their service and hard work during these unprecedented times.”
So, during this time of crisis, perhaps we should all take a minute to salute some of the unsung heroes of this pandemic – the drivers and fleet managers who are ensuring that we are protected and fed through this incredibly trying period.