Over the past three or four months I’ve been focusing a lot on the health challenges we face as we go about our business of trucking.
It’s one thing to eat right and get some exercise but it is the stresses we face each day and the fatigue we experience from our long workdays and time away from home that affects our health more than anything else. These issues we can’t solve on our own.
It’s interesting that Ontario is recognized as one of the leaders in commercial vehicle safety enforcement while at the same time they lag far behind other jurisdictions in regards to providing adequate parking and rest areas for commercial drivers. I stopped at a modern rest area on the I-90/94 corridor just west of Madison, Wisconsin last week and counted 68 truck parking spots. Add to that the curbside parking behind the parked trucks and you would get no fewer than 100 trucks into this rest area. All of the Midwest states I travel through provide modern rest areas along the Interstate highways. We can learn much from our neighbours to the south in this regard.
We need modern rest areas located two to three hours apart across the length of the Trans-Canada Highway such as you find between Montreal and the New Brunswick border. Kudos to the province of Quebec for providing rest areas with heated restrooms, running water and truck parking.
This is an issue of health, safety, and security. The trucking lobby could do a much better job of using this issue to gain some leverage with the public. I wouldn’t call the trucking industry a leader when it comes to issues of health and safety in the workplace.
The transportation network is our workplace. Unlike industry-specific issues such as speed limiters, hours-of-service regulations and electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs), which the public has difficulty getting their heads around, highway rest areas are a need we share with the motoring public. After all, everybody needs to use a restroom at some point.
There is also an impact on our smaller communities that bear the brunt of all the heavy traffic that passes by their communities on a daily basis. Recently Linda Nowicki, the mayor of Wawa, reached out to the Ontario Trucking Association asking that a campaign be commenced to address the issue of “truck bombs,” better known as bottles of urine, tossed out on the sides of the road in and around their community by transport drivers. A lack of rest areas does not make this behaviour acceptable but it has contributed to it. This behaviour by drivers is becoming commonplace across the country.
Then there is the hours-of-service (HoS) issue. Compliance with hours-of-service legislation is a major stressor in the lives of drivers. The introduction of EOBRs has further compounded that stress. I think it’s fair to say that many drivers see this as a control issue. After all, most of us were attracted to this industry because we did not want to punch a time clock every day. It’s the desire of every professional driver to operate safely and responsibly, but at the same time we want to maintain that feeling of freedom that comes with the open road. I think many drivers feel that freedom has been taken away from them, or is in the process of being taken away from them, in the guise of big brother in the cab.
That’s unfortunate because this technology has the capability of opening up doors for drivers, not closing them.
I choose to look at the HoS rules and EOBRs as enablers, not limiters. I’m lucky in the sense that I work for a carrier that empowers me to make many of my own decisions in regards to my time. My relationship with our operations people is that of a team, not a boss/employee relationship.
I recognize that is not the normal mode of operation for many drivers out there. That’s what has to change. That’s where the feeling of freedom comes from.
Perhaps the biggest problem is that the demographic within management is the same as that of the drivers.
A large majority are in the 50-plus range and still trying to apply new technology to the way things have always been done rather than dealing with the present moment and looking to the future.
It’s time for carriers and enforcement to step back and take a new look at the way we do things. We don’t have to give up our passion for this work, the freedom of the road, the liberation of the open road that we enjoy. This technology should support that and improve it.
After all, we have a real problem right now attracting new people to the industry. We are not going to attract them by beating them over the head with new technology. We need to use it to entice them into an exciting career.