Miles Per Gal

By on May 1, 2008
RoadKing Mag

Go ahead and call Charlotte Johnson a woman driver. She doesn’t mind a bit.

“It’s absolutely OK with me,” Johnson says. “My company has grown from one truck to 15 trucks in two years. We just cleared more than $1 million in gross revenue. People can call me whatever they want!”

Johnson isn’t the only woman driving for Family Expediters, the Mogadore, Ohio-based Panther fleet she runs with fellow over-the-road driver Terri Turner. More than half of its 24 drivers — running loads for companies such as Toyota and Del Monte — are women.

“Women make great drivers because they are adaptable,” Johnson says. “We pay attention to detail and can multitask. The more women we get into this business the better.”

The very existence of a female-owned trucking company and the success it has accomplished with a majority of women truckers on its roster is remarkable in this male-dominated trade. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2006 only 5.2 percent of the country’s 3.5 million truck drivers were women. This is double the number of women driving 20 years ago.

“We need to look at how we can tap into 52 percent of the population for an industry that has such a shortage right now,” Johnson says.

Despite the recent decline in loads due to the slowdown of the economy, there is still a driver shortage. In 2005, the American Trucking Associations (ATA) estimated that U.S. carriers were short 20,000 drivers. If the trend continues, the ATA says the deficit could rise to 111,000 by 2014.

The obvious answer? Recruit more women.

In March 2007, a new organization, Women in Trucking (WIT) was formed to encourage companies to do just that.

“We want to help the industry become more welcoming to women so they’ll consider trucking as a career,” says WIT Chairwoman Ellen Voie. “More than half the women in this country work full time, but many of them have never considered becoming a professional driver. We need to change that.”

Voie and the 11 other members of the WIT board of directors including Lana Batts, a managing partner in Transport Capital Partners and Lenora Hardee, Ph.D, the manager of Human Factors and Ergonomics at International Truck and Engine Corporation, plan to effect change by removing obstacles.

“For instance, companies should consider hiring women trainers so their female drivers will feel less intimidated,” says Voie. “Make sure you have restrooms for women in your drivers’ area. Offer awards for safe driving. And make your trucks accommodating for women (and men) by installing ergonomically designed seats, lower shelving areas, power steering and automated transmissions.”

Another WIT priority is education. “That’s a big part of what we’re about,” says Voie. “To educate women how to be safe out there but also to educate carriers about women’s concerns. We are also working to educate the truckstops about what they can do to be more female friendly.”

When women truckers find a truckstop that caters to them, they become loyal, appreciative patrons. Johnson says she has seen upgrades in female facilities at truckstops over the last few years. “Some places put two towels in the women’s showers — one for your body and one for your hair,” she says. “We notice things like that.”

Granted, it will take effort to dramatically increase the number of women joining the trucking industry and committing to their new careers for the long haul. But several major factors just may sway the trend.

Most importantly, trucking pays well. “What other industry can say that all women in it earn the same as men?” says Voie. “Carriers pay by the mile, not by whether you’re male or female.”

Another plus for female drivers? These days, the equipment is more comfortable and easier to handle. “The trucks have gotten so much easier,” Johnson says. “We’ve got five fully automatic trucks.”

Also, trucking may be an attractive alternative to women in their 40s or 50s looking for a new career after raising their kids or changing professions — with or without their husbands. “Those are the women we really want to recruit,” Johnson says. “Women who appreciate the freedom this job has to offer.”

STATS

Percentage of truck drivers in 1972 who were women: 0.6
Percentage of truck drivers in 2006 who were women: 5.2
Approximate number of professional women drivers in 1995: 129,000
Approximate number of professional women drivers in 2007: 156,000
Number of women who competed in the 2007 National Truck Driver Championship: 7

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