• Research: Women Truck Drivers Operate More Safely Than Men

    Research: Women Truck Drivers Operate More Safely Than Men

    Women make safer truck drivers but face obstacles their male counterparts may not. - Image: HDT Graphic

    Women make safer truck drivers but face obstacles their male counterparts may not.

    Image: HDT Graphic

    Women truck drivers are safer and more likely to follow the rules of the road than male drivers, according to an evaluation of 12 years of truck inspection data. So why aren’t there more women drivers?

    According to a pair of researchers at Auburn University in Alabama, answering and addressing that question could be key to safer highways and make it easier for trucking fleets to find safe, qualified drivers.

    “Men consistently were more likely than women to engage in risky driving behavior, regardless of the circumstances or the type of carrier, from 2010 to 2022,” according to the study.

    Specifically, men were 13.2% more likely to have a major unsafe driving violation, such as driving more than 15 mph over the posted limit, and 7.4% more likely to be cited for a major violation of hours-of-service rules.

    As the researchers note, such violations “make truck accidents more likely and more deadly.”

    Beth Davis-Sramek, a supply chain management professor at Auburn’s Harbert College of Business, and Dave Ketchen from Auburn’s Department of Management and Entrepreneurship point out that women make up only 5% of U.S. truck drivers and could be a massive boost to the nation’s labor pool of truck drivers.

    Davis-Sramek and Ketchen published a study in the journal “Production and Operations Management” after conducting research using more than 22 million data points from truck inspections from 2010-22.

    Auburn’s researchers contend women truck drivers could help ease some of the country’s supply chain strains, since more than 70% of freight in the U.S. is moved by trucks.

    The researchers decided to take a closer look at the issue while discussing industry challenges in round table conversations with other researchers studying supply chain issues.

    “The truck driver shortage has been significant for a long time,” Davis-Sramek said. “There have been a lot of policy discussions about it. That’s really when we started thinking about the industry and the shortage and the gender difference, because part of it is, if there were more women drivers, there would be less of a shortage.”

    Men committed more unsafe driving violations (e.g., speeding) than women across the entire study period, while the pattern of hours of service violations varied based on external events, such as fleet size, private vs. for-hire carriers, and mandatory electronic logging devices.

    ELDs, Truck Parking Shortage, and Women Drivers

    “Surprisingly, women had significantly more HOS violations in 2021 and 2022 than men,” the researchers report. “An outcome that may be tied to women truckers’ personal safety issues.”

    “We were intrigued that women drivers at small companies were suddenly committing more HOS violations than men at small companies,” wrote the researchers in their report, “so we drew on alternative sources to identify possible causes.”

    For example, they reached out to the founder of the Women in Trucking Association, who started a discussion about the topic in a WIT social media group. Safety issues emerged as a leading suspect.

    A woman trucker explained, “Women truck drivers face unique challenges when it comes to finding a safe and comfortable place to park for their mandated 10-hour rest. With a shortage of truck parking spaces and facilities, it’s no wonder there are more HOS violations.”

    Drivers often face a dilemma because their only options are to violate work hours regulations or park illegally — most often on the shoulder of a road. That not only puts drivers at risk of a violation, but it creates personal safety concerns for women.

    As another woman trucker commented, “Maybe women drive longer because they are not willing to park illegally.”

    When women must break one rule or the other, the findings suggest that they err on the side of personal safety.

    Truck Driver Image, Safety Concerns Deter Women From Becoming Truck Drivers

    So why are only 5% of truck drivers female? (Some studies have found slightly higher numbers, but 5% is the statistic used by the Auburn researchers.)

    It starts with the image of a truck driver, Ketchen said.

    “You think about the culture of that industry. It’s always been very Smokey and the Bandit, Convoy, very male-oriented, historically,” he said, referring to movies featuring male truck drivers at the center of the action.

    Meanwhile, “50% of the population has been barely tapped to be truck drivers.”

    On top of that, the researchers pointed out, many trucking jobs require substantial time away from one’s home and family.

    More concerning, they said, are the safety concerns and convenience factors women face that deter them from considering or remaining in the profession. Among them:

    • Inadequate lighting at truck stops and rest areas.
    • Unsafe parking options that make women fearful.
    • Shower facilities at truck stops that cater more to male drivers than female.
    • A lack of security at rest stops and parking areas.

    It even comes down to simple things like the location of trash cans that may require women drivers to walk too far under dim lighting, Davis-Sramek said.

    “From a policy perspective, these are things that should certainly spur more thought and concerns,” she said.

    Increased security, more parking capacity, better lighting, and closer trash cans are problems that can readily be removed as barriers to women being truck drivers, she said.

    Ketchen agreed, adding that it would be wise for the trucking industry, companies that ship goods, and governments to explore ways of working together to provide better infrastructure at privately owned commercial truck stops and state-managed roadside rest areas.“They should be talking to each other and asking, ‘hey, what can we do together to create better conditions for drivers?’”

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