Truck drivers are heroes; we need more of them
by Katie George Hooser
Published: The Daily Memphian, June 17, 2020
COVID-19 illuminated what some already knew to be true: Truck drivers are critical to keep America moving
Regardless of the situations they encounter daily, truck drivers continue to get goods from ports to suppliers so that Americans can have the essentials that keep them going in good times, in natural disasters and even in pandemics. If you’ve been around the trucking industry, you may have heard the phrase, “When trucks stop, America stops.” It’s true.
According to the American Trucking Association in just one day without truck drivers, hospitals would begin running out of basic supplies such as syringes and catheters; service stations would begin to run out of fuel; food shortages would develop; and just-in-time assembly lines would cease.
At points during the COVID-19 crisis, I wondered if some of these things might actually happen. Drivers put their health at risk, continuing to perform an essential service during this pandemic. They do this even though they can be a vulnerable population. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average age of a commercial truck driver in the United States is 55.
The pandemic brought new obstacles to an already challenging industry. When drivers set out for their day, there are many new questions. Where will they be able to find a clean restroom or safely take a break? Did they pack enough food? What happens if they arrive at their destination only to find a closed sign on the door?
At points during this crisis, lines at port facilities were longer than usual and many drivers waited hours to pick up containers. While less cargo was being moved, there were also fewer people working in those facilities.
As an industry, we’ve encountered these situations before. In natural disasters, drivers are on the front lines of recovery. These men and women are accustomed to working long hours in sometimes difficult conditions. They are some of our nation’s heroes.
I wasn’t around to see it, but I’ve been told that commercial truck drivers were once commonly known as Knights of the Road. They had a reputation for being dependable and friendly, and for helping people who were involved in accidents or stranded on the side of the road. Freedom and a sense of adventure were associated with being a driver. Many owned their own trucks or businesses. Drivers were respected and valued.
While situations change, the dedication of America’s drivers remains the same. Every day these men and women muscle 50,000 pounds of cargo across our nation’s highways. I’ve heard them talking to each other on CB radios to slow traffic and protect others from accidents they know are up ahead. Drivers are some of our nation’s first line of defense in reporting suspected sex trafficking. And now, drivers risk their lives in a global pandemic to provide essential supplies American families need.
Recently, I’ve seen truck drivers recognized as heroic and essential, alongside medical workers and grocery store workers. They truly are. As our economy begins to open up and the rest of us go back to work, our country will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic changed. It is my hope that one of the changes will be how we see commercial drivers. They deserve to be the Knights of the Road again.
The American Trucking Association estimates that there is a driver shortage of an estimated 90,000 drivers per year. Nearly one million new drivers will be needed between now and 2030 to keep up with our supply chain needs. More heroes are needed to join the ranks and help keep America moving forward.
Posted: June 17, 2020