“They tell their friends, ‘My mom’s a truck driver!’”
March 6, 2016 6:15 AM   Subscribe

Road Runner: A Week On The Road With A Female Trucker by Jessica Ogilvie [Buzzfeed] When most Americans think of truckers, they imagine big, burly men — not Melissa Rojas. The Michigan-based mom is one of less than 6% of long-haul drivers who are women. Though weeks on the road can sometimes bring more frustration than freedom, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
In 2014, 3.4 million truck drivers were on the road, and only 5.8% of them were women. It’s a dangerous job all around; in 2013, 3,858 drivers were involved in fatal accidents. There are also constant, unexpected hazards: One of Rojas’s male friends would later tell me about encountering alligators at a loading dock lot in Louisiana bayou country. But for female drivers, the danger goes much further. Reports of rape and sexual harassment on the road are rampant, often at the hands of other drivers. And trucking is riddled with an outdated boys club mentality; last year, lawsuits were filed against at least two major trucking companies, claiming that female employees were routinely harassed or assaulted, and that supervisors did nothing about it.
posted by Fizz (24 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Long before I was born, my grandmother was a truck driver, in a country with very traditional gender roles, especially for a woman of her class. She drove a gas-tanker (not sure if that's what it's called -- one of those trucks that takes gasoline to the gas stations). She drove it between cities, from the coast to a mountain city, which would have meant driving along mountain roads, that were often unpaved, poorly-signed, and un-barriered, even in my childhood.

This is something I've always known to be true -- I have an article that the local newspaper wrote about this for United Nations Year of the Woman way back when. But it's also something that just doesn't seem to fit with my grandmother as the woman who I knew. As I knew her, long after her truck driving days, she was absolutely a prim and proper woman of her class. She had servants to do the cooking and cleaning (my mom says she's never eaten a meal prepared by my grandmother). She would send me books on the importance of virtue. And she found out I was in shop class in elementary school, she told me that it was fine to make little wood knick-knacks or things if I wanted, but things like a bookshelf or bench weren't for women to make.

So it's never fit, but I've just had to learn that my grandmother had parts of her that didn't quite fit. And mostly I had just stopped thinking about it and figured that my grandmother once had a badass side that I had never seen and would quite believe in.

Then a couple of years ago, while driving along a mountain road with some family, we passed a very large (like a small building/shack, not a little monument) shrine to the Virgin Mary on the grassy patch in the middle of an intersection and one of my aunt's casually mentioned "Your grandmother had that built with her car-racing winnings." (????) Me: "Grandma was a race-car driver?" Aunt: "You didn't know?"

It's like this shrine is both sides of her built into one -- a shrine to the Virgin (the grandmother I knew) and the race-car driver (the women I never knew). In short, my grandmother, and presumably other female truck drivers, was a land of contradictions.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:51 AM on March 6, 2016 [55 favorites]

One of my first jobs was driving a delivery truck. :) one of my favorite parts of my car breaking down is getting to ride in the big ass tow truck (they always send flatbeds). And whenever mom gets to ride in a big ass diesel or semi it's like a four year old going to Disneyland for the very first time.
posted by tilde at 6:56 AM on March 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

If these first two comments are any indication of how the rest of this discussion will follow, I'm excited. Please, more truck-related stories about women being bad-ass.
posted by Fizz at 7:00 AM on March 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

At age 14, my grandmother drove the REO Fire truck to a fire because the driver was ill and only she knew how to operate it. (Circa 1919)

She also used to accompany her father to pick up cars and trucks from the Ford Factory (no factory delivery then) and drove the trucks to the dealership.
Nice post!
posted by clavdivs at 7:17 AM on March 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

This goes in a dark direction, but I have a friend from high school who's been in the news the last week; she's a trucker, and she and her husband (they generally long-haul as a team) passed a broken-down car with a man and a little boy getting out, turned around to see if they could help, and when they got to the car found a murdered woman with a screwdriver stuck in her chest. Their call to the police, and having seen which way the man and boy went, got the man arrested and rescued the boy. (Apparently the man was extremely high and decided the woman was a witch and he had to kill her, and may or may not have been going to murder their son as well.) If they hadn't stopped, the murder might have gone undiscovered for several hours and the guy might have had enough time to get away. They've also called social services and offered to adopt the boy if he doesn't have other family to take custody. She is pretty shook up.

So, yeah, sorry that was dark, but it's on the top of my mind and GEEEEZ the hazards of trucking I would not have thought of.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:16 AM on March 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

I lost my job about a month before September 11, and just nobody was even interviewing in the months after, and I had a lot of free time to do pro/con lists about various possible career changes.

The top cons on my Truck Driver list were:
-Dangerous (driving)
-Dangerous (not driving)
-Creepy Shit

I grew up dead center of a rhomboid of 4 interstates in Texas, at the ass-end of tornado alley, in the middle of lumber/paper country, and it was always truck drivers who found the bodies in ditches or were first upon horrific accidents or ran afoul of the drug traffickers or got blown over.

I was in the middle of prepping an application to the Funerary Sciences school when I got another tech-industry job for half what I'd been making before.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:53 AM on March 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ten years ago I worked telephone tech support on a team with two women who had been long-haul truckers (and about 15 other people). One time, my car's steerling was messed up and one of them, who had been a mechanic as well, wen to her car, got her tools, and saw what was wrong with it (verifying that I wasn't a crazy person -- the serpentine belt had busted). She let me use her AAA card to get my car towed to the shop. I got her a JoAnn Fabrics gift card because I knew that she liked crafting.

posted by dhens at 10:05 AM on March 6, 2016

The first couple of paragraphs are a little breathlessly written:"Throughout this meteorological emergency....
I’m trying not to panic, but I will later be told that my knuckles turned white during what seemed to be a close brush with death. "

It's written like the writer has never been on a road before, but it does get better when she stops focussing on herself and moves onto the actual subject of the article (seriously, what grown person doesn't know something being towed behind ANYTHING is called a trailer?).

The stuff about how intimidating truck stops can be certainly holds up. We have stopped at many out of the way/non-prime highway truck stops and there are some REALLY weird people in them. My wife was certainly edgy a few times, but we had a choice of not stopping/travelling during the night so we were a touch more fortunate. There are plenty I'd not want to be walking around at 2am.

“This is actually no more dangerous than being in a car,” she says casually, reaching up to adjust her rearview mirror. “That car spun out ’cause it was really light.”

*sigh*. No it didn't. It spun out because it was going too fast for conditions. Vehicles just do not crash for a lack of mass, that's a ridiculous idea.
posted by Brockles at 10:21 AM on March 6, 2016

Allie Knight is a trucker who posts to Youtube frequently. Here's one where she gives a tour of her Peterbilt 579 sleeper cab, and gives a brief glimpse of what it's like to live on the road.

Her videos are getting a lot of play in the Truck Sim communities (yes, that's a thing, and a kinda fun thing at that).
posted by honestcoyote at 10:21 AM on March 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

When I think of truckers, I think "On this very night, ten years ago, on this same stretch of road, in the dense fog, just like this..."
posted by lore at 11:16 AM on March 6, 2016 [8 favorites]

Great article. I'm surprised to hear there are so few female long-haul truckers- if I had to guess, I would think this is not true of local delivery drivers, bus drivers, and equipment operators. Someone needs to take a serious look at the things making long-haul trucking so inhospitable for women!
posted by Secretariat at 11:54 AM on March 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

(seriously, what grown person doesn't know something being towed behind ANYTHING is called a trailer?)

As we found in a previously discussion here, "people not in the United States" would be the answer.
posted by bongo_x at 12:22 PM on March 6, 2016

As we found in a previously discussion here, "people not in the United States" would be the answer.

But this person *was* from the United States, which is the context I was so surprised at. It's not like she was saying "This is what I call it in Swahili/Urdu/Spanish/Esperanto" but more "What is the name of this thing that I drive behind every day of my life on the highway".

Also it's called a trailer (something pulled behind another thing) in all English speaking countries I have been to/know of.
posted by Brockles at 12:40 PM on March 6, 2016

“That car spun out ’cause it was really light."

That's actually true. The speed at which a vehicle hydroplanes is proportional to its tire pressure. Tire pressure is lower for cars, at around 35psi, because they are lighter than trucks, which use pressures of over 100psi.
posted by monotreme at 12:53 PM on March 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

First of all, I don't usually watch TV but occasionally my preschooler and I enjoy an episode of Ice Road Truckers. It's about trucking companies trying to get loads in remote areas of Canada on dangerous winter roads. My son watches it for the truck footage, obviously, but I like the female truck driver and her adventures. Can't link from my phone but check it out.

Secondly, I did driver's training and got my truck driver's license in 2009. I don't do any long haul trucking though.
I still think the hardest thing I've ever done is learn go drive truck and go do that driver's test. I learned to drive standard transmission in an 18-speed unit, in a roughneck city with icy roads and very aggressive drivers, and for all 30+ hours of instruction, I was terrified I was going to lose control of the truck or trailer and cause an accident. Terrified. I've had root canals without anaesthetic, and I've done that whole natural childbirth thing, and I still think doing that driver's test was the hardest thing I've done. My driver trainer had no idea what to make of me: the vast majority of his students were young, rammy, aggressive young guys who had no fear.

When I finally passed my test, though, my driver trainer said, "Too bad you don't have a kid, because now I could call you mother trucker." I get the feeling I'm not the only female trucker out there to have heard that one.
posted by bluebelle at 2:18 PM on March 6, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think one of the great economic dislocations we will see in the next ten years will be when most truck drivers are replaced by computers. We're talking about 3.5 million jobs in the US alone.
posted by Triplanetary at 2:19 PM on March 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

The speed at which a vehicle hydroplanes is proportional to its tire pressure. Tire pressure is lower for cars, at around 35psi, because they are lighter than trucks, which use pressures of over 100psi.

Er. You just agreed with me. It aquaplaned because it was going too fast, not because it was lighter. Speed is the variable, not the vehicle mass. If a person happens across standing water, the correct response is to slow down, not throw some bags of sand in the boot.

Trucks have better (larger diameter) tyres with deeper tread, eject water well and a host of other reasons they have an increased speed where they are prone to aquaplaning. It does not (in a car) solely depend on tyre pressure. I understand it is a formula you can use in aviation, but it is not at all the presiding factor in cars.
posted by Brockles at 2:37 PM on March 6, 2016

Someone needs to take a serious look at the things making long-haul trucking so inhospitable for women!

I don't know why anyone would want to do it. Obnoxious cops pulling you over in the middle of nowhere, lieing customers, cranky dispatchers, corrupt inspectors and idiot drivers doing stupid shit right in front of you like 80,000 lbs. can stop on a dime. Plus having no time to stop as you drive by some of the coolest stuff in America.

Black ice, high winds, hail and sandstorms or the weird things like a moose charging your cab or an owl taking out your windshield at 70 mph aren't as bad as so many people treating drivers like marks or scapegoats.

Baculum King over at Daily Kos had a reoccurring post about "dieing slowly, mangled beyond recognition" or bad days driving a semi.
posted by ridgerunner at 3:12 PM on March 6, 2016

Here's a Canadian perspective on women truckers.
posted by sardonyx at 5:19 PM on March 6, 2016

Tangential but fascinating: truck rodeo

I once had a job interview (in fact, one of 2 I got that period I was out of work) in one of the office buildings at Texas Motor Speedway, where the office looked down on one of the big parking lots where they were having truck rodeo classes/practice. I may not have gotten a callback just because I spent the whole interview getting distracted.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:36 PM on March 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I can only tangentially contribute to this: my grandmother was not a truck driver, but she was, to the best of my knowledge, the first woman to own a car, a Model A Ford, in a certain large area of rural Canada. I'm told she purchased it right out of teaching college and drove it from Winnipeg up to the northwest, arriving in a small farming town where she was to be the schoolmistress. She lived with a local family who's son became my grandfather. I knew her only distantly, since my father emigrated to the States in the 60s and returned to visit only rarely, but she lived in the same small farmhouse she and my grandfather built in the early 30s right up until the mid-90s, when she moved into an assisted living facility. She died when I was in college, but remained mentally sharp and cynical up through the last time I saw her, at age 98. I've got several hours of MiniDV tape I shot of her at that time kicking around somewhere; I should really do something to preserve that and make sure I can share it with my nieces and nephews.
posted by Alterscape at 6:27 PM on March 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

Someone needs to take a serious look at the things making long-haul trucking so inhospitable for women!

Actually, Bitch magazine did take a look at some of the barriers for women truck drivers in the US as part of their Tough issue. You can, and should, buy the whole issue here but I also found a pdf online that has the article.

It is an infuriating read, but gives some great insight as to why. Sadly, no one reading the article will likely be surprised.
posted by Hopeful and Cynical at 8:17 PM on March 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

My parents drove truck.
I was conceived in a sleeper cab parked at a truck stop in Intercourse, Pennsylvania.
It's really gross that I'm telling everyone that.
posted by sutureselves at 8:58 PM on March 6, 2016 [15 favorites]

I work in the industry. A lot of this piece is accurate and rings true. That said:

Walmart, Rojas explains, has a unique business model when it comes to transporting goods: They hire their own fleet of drivers, meaning that drivers don’t have to deal with getting lost in an outside corporation’s fleet of employees. Most other retail companies contract out with one of the major trucking companies, and employ an intermediary to warehouse goods that drivers pick up.

This is several kinds of wrong:

* Private fleets are hardly unique to Walmart.
* Walmart does not solely use private fleet.
* Most companies of any size would use multiple carriers.
* Lots of companies do outsource warehousing, but it's very common to own your own distribution centers.

This is a little sticky, too:

In December, the FMCSA also mandated that within the next two years, all truck drivers must have electronic logging devices in their vehicles, a system many bigger trucking companies already use. With arrival times reported to their companies to the second, drivers can feel like there’s zero room for error. Plus, says Rojas, “it takes the [work] out of actually doing the math — so it puts a lot of dumb drivers on the road.”

I think the primary issue drivers have with electronic logging is it won't allow them to violate hours of service rules.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:20 PM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

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