September 13─19 is National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, and this year, the week takes on special significance as we recognize the hardworking men and women behind the wheel who are responsible for keeping grocery shelves stocked, gas pumps full, construction jobs active, and countless other economic systems moving during the worst pandemic in a century.

To put the magnitude of truck drivers’ efforts in context, trucks transport over 70 percent of all the goods in the United States (rail, ship and airlines account for the remainder.) With revenues well north of $700 billion, the trucking industry produces more GDP than all but 32 countries globally. Almost 6 percent of Americans work in the trucking industry. That is 7.5 million jobs! In 2018, U.S.-based freight companies moved 12 billion pounds of freight, or 35 pounds of product for every person in the country. In Maine, the reality is that without trucking, most grocery stores would run out of food in 72 hours.

COVID-19 has only turned up these pressures on truck drivers. Yet, despite the frenzy of the past six months, trucking companies have led the way on public safety and driver safety. The trucking industry was quick to implement safety measures such as social distancing, deep cleaning of equipment, and adherence to U.S. Department of Transportation safety protocols. No matter the roadblock, drivers continue to get the job done. So, who are these road warriors?

For most truck drivers, living away from home and missing out on precious time with family is a tough reality, as they work to get products from San Diego to Lubec and everywhere in between (think Hank Snow’s song “I’ve Been Everywhere,” though most truckers easily exceed the 40-plus mentioned locales in that famous song). The average long-haul truck driver logs 100,000 miles per year compared to the average individual motorist who logs about 13,500 miles per year. Professional truck drivers are a diverse group in age, gender and ethnicity.

The National Transportation Institute reports:

• The average age of truck drivers is 52 years old;

• 6 percent of truck drivers are women;

• 40 percent of drivers are minorities compared to 22 percent of overall jobs in the U.S.;

• 11 percent of long haul drivers are veterans.

Truck drivers also help to keep our roads safe. As the trucking industry has introduced new technologies and safety mandates, highway safety is dramatically improving.

The trucking industry has strict rules regarding electronic log (miles driven) monitoring, drug and alcohol testing, prohibiting the use of hand-held devices while driving, and safety training. In the last decade, the number of truck fatalities on U.S. highways decreased by 28 percent, despite a 75 percent increase in traffic. Car drivers are a primary cause of accidents involving large trucks; in 2015, this number was over 70 percent and mostly involved distracted drivers or drivers operating vehicles while intoxicated. And 90 percent of head-on crashes between motorists and large trucks were the result of the passenger car crossing the median into the truck’s lane of travel.

Some have called truck drivers heroes. But most truckers will modestly tell you they are just doing what they love to do. They take pride in being an important part of the American economy, and during the supply shortages that characterized the early days of the pandemic, took pride in truly being on the front lines of the COVID-19 response. But I think most would also say it’s nice to be appreciated. So, this Sept. 13-19, if you see a truck driver, give them a wave. If you know a truck driver, give them a call. If you are a truck driver, thank you for getting the job done safely.

 


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