Ryder, WIT team up to build safer trucks for both sexes

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MIAMI, Fla. — Earlier this year, Ryder Systems announced it was collaborating with Women in Trucking (WIT) to create ergonomic cab designs that would help address the challenges women face while operating heavy-duty vehicles. 

But it turns out these expected “female-friendly” changes will really be helping out both men and women (hurray for equality)!

The brains behind the new proposed designs is Dr. Jeanette Kersten, assistant professor of the operations and management department at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, Wisc. Along with the help from her students, Kersten indentified several shortcomings in current trucks that are not suitable or safe for drivers.

Kersten and WIT, a non-profit organization that aims to encourage the employment of females in the trucking industry and diminish obstacles faced by women in the industry, teamed up with Ryder to help make trucks that would better suit the needs of female drivers, since most trucks are built with men in mind.

“WIT and their research identified a gap in the industry,” said Scott Perry, vice-president of supply management for Ryder.

The gap indentified though, wasn’t necessarily gender specific; instead, it just came about when females voiced their feedback on how they could be more comfortable on the job.

What makes these trucks get the “female-friendly” label slapped on them, simply put, is the physical differences (height and weight) of the average man and woman which creates a problem of safety and comfort.

“The whole point is adaptability,” Ellen Voie, CEO of WIT said of the project.

Adaptability, meaning having trucks with adjustable foot pedals, the ability to modify the height of seat belts, (women, on average, are shorter than their male counterparts) and an electric or hydraulic hood-lifting mechanism – all spec’s that Ryder is looking at and hopes to deploy in its fleets sometime soon.

“The workforce is aging,” added Perry. “This applies to them too.”

And he’s right.

As challenging as it can be for a small-statured female driver to lift a heavy hood, it can be just as hard for an older male. Of course, males dominate the industry but almost half of them, in Canada anyway, are between the ages of 45 and 64, according to Statistics Canada. And with 48% of their drivers getting older, and consequently more susceptible to injury, Perry claims these new spec’s are good for everyone.

“We want to support the greatest cross-section of drivers, ” Perry said of these new designs.

He continued to say that during the research stage of the project, responses from most women came from those who were owner/operators and ran with their husbands.

“They’d say, ‘I’m 5’4” and my husband is 6’4”, but the truck has to work for both of us,’” he recalled, saying the new adjustable spec’s would solve this problem.

Despite the fact the number of women entering the trucking industry is climbing, Voie claims these new changes wouldn’t necessarily entice more female drivers (according to Statistics Canada less than 4% of professional truck drivers are female) but it does create a better work environment for those who are already in it.

“I wouldn’t say that (these new designs) would attract more women into the industry but it makes them more comfortable and it would help with retention,” said Voie. “It makes the truck less physically challenging.”

By simply looking at the exterior of the cab, one can see an example of how current trucks present a problem for everyone.

For the most part, two steps are provided to enter and exit a truck, which Kersten notes, are too far apart from each other and creates a potential injury risk. A solution Ryder and WIT are looking at is adding one more step to offer more stability and support to drivers entering and exiting the cab.

“Safety is very important,” said Perry who stressed the significance of having three points of contact (two feet, one hand or two hands and one foot) while exiting and entering a truck. “The point is to reduce injuries, since most injuries happen when drivers are getting in and out of their cab.”

Perry says the biggest change Ryder wants to see implemented in the new truck designs is having adjustable foot pedals.

“It’s a great area for improvement,” he said. “They’re available in more passenger cars, so they need to be in trucks.” 

Voie also stressed that WIT is not solely an organization with female voices, and said that men are part of WIT too.

“So many men join our company because they see the benefits,” she said, referring to these new gender neutral spec’s.

Perry says Ryder is currently getting ready for a side-by-side comparison of the new designs versus the old trucks, which he expects will happen in the next few months.

He says the hope is that interested people can help provide further feedback to better enhance these new models.

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Sonia Straface is the associate editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. She graduated from Ryerson University's journalism program in 2013 and enjoys writing about health and wellness and HR issues surrounding the transportation industry. Follow her on Twitter: @SoniaStraface.

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