How the Trucking Industry is Changing During COVID-19
Grocery and medical supply shortages are a problem across the United States amid the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led to many truckers working longer hours so they can get shelves stocked and keep medical personnel safe. The trucking industry is an integral part of the supply chain. Without them, the goods everyone needs to make it through the crisis would not be available. People would never be able to find those elusive rolls of toilet paper without our nation’s truckers.
Truck drivers are also doing their part to help slow the spread of the deadly virus. They’re on the frontlines of the pandemic every day and are taking new precautions like everyone else. Hiring changes are sweeping the industry as a result of the coronavirus, as well. These adaptations are coming at a time when both companies and truckers are looking to connect.
The trucking industry already does a lot to keep drivers safe. They make an effort to cut down on distracted driving and they take care to rest often. Now, truck drivers are taking the same steps as the rest of America to slow the spread of COVID-19. They’re practicing good hygiene and social distancing. In hot spots across the country, even more precautions are taking place.
For example, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is giving specific guidance to truck drivers who have to deliver goods to New York City. The agency recommends drivers stay in their vehicles as much as possible when the supplies are being loaded onto the truck and unloaded at the destination.
The CDC is also recommending trucking companies switch to electronic receipts if they can. That will allow drivers to maintain a healthy distance from other people. Truck drivers who are sick or have been exposed to the novel coronavirus, are being asked to self-quarantine for 14 days. All essential workers are an increased risk of catching the virus because they’re most likely in contact with other people.
Staying inside the vehicle during loading and unloading is good advice for all truck drivers. If they decrease the exposure they have to people, the less likely it is these critical workers will get the virus.
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued emergency regulatory relief for commercial truckers. Specifically, the administration isn’t enforcing “hours of service” rules. Fortunately, thanks to fleet management software, they are still able to get to their destination safely.
Commercial truck drivers who are delivering the following goods fall under the FMCSA emergency relief order:
- Paper products, food, and other groceries being used for emergency restocking of stores and distribution centers
- Medical supplies and equipment used to test, treat and diagnose COVID-19
- Raw materials used to manufacture essential items
- Personal protective equipment such as gloves and masks, also supplies used to sanitize and slow the spread of the virus, like soap, hand sanitizer, disinfectant and other items
- Supplies, people, and equipment needed for quarantines and temporary housing
- People who provide emergency and medical services
- People that state, local and federal authorities designated for quarantine, medical, and isolation purposes
In addition to the relief mentioned above, truckers are exempt from the US-Canada and US-Mexico borders’ mandatory 14-day quarantine rules when they pass between the countries to deliver goods. Truck drivers should self-quarantine if they are not feeling well, however.
Rest Area Closures Cause Headaches
Truckers who are delivering essential goods may be exempt from some regulatory rules, but they still need to take breaks. COVID-19 rest area closures are causing big headaches for some drivers.
In March, the state of Vermont closed all 16 of its rest areas because of staffing difficulties related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the employees who work off the interstates are over 60 years old. Other workers are at home caring for children as schools closed to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Pennsylvania shut down every single one of its 30 rest stops the same month. They did eventually announce they’d open 13, but more than half remained closed. The 13 stops that stayed open don’t have indoor facilities truckers can use. The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation put portable toilets outside instead. Welcome Centers in Michigan, Texas and other states are closed as well. Millions of truckers stop at those state-run rest areas every year.
Truckers who are traveling to deliver goods rely on those areas not just for rest but to clean up and eat. There are truck stops across the country, many of which are staying open, but state-run rest stops are critical.
If truck stops are full and rest areas aren’t open, long-haulers may be forced to stop and sleep in unsafe spaces. American Trucking Associations Spokesman Sean McNally explained truck drivers are working hard but they “do need to park, rest and take advantage of the facilities” at rest stops.
Closed schools and businesses mean families are buying more goods during the coronavirus outbreak. While bare shelves were originally attributed to “hoarders,” it’s becoming clear that people just need more stuff to survive. Both parents and children are eating three meals a day at home. Paper products like toilet paper are running out faster in households.
Healthcare facilities need equipment to fight back against the virus and keep patients safe. They’re running out of masks, gloves, medications, and other supplies.
All of that need is causing an increase in demand for truckers to deliver groceries and medical supplies. For truckers who haul those goods, it means they are working longer hours with bigger loads to keep America operational.
Data from Freight Waves, a publication for truck drivers, found truckload volume was up 25.9% in March. While demand is up, there may not be enough drivers to deliver the goods.
States Cause Problems
The United States has a truck driver shortage and states are not making it better. According to a recent report, all 50 states have changed their State Driver Licensing Agencies (SDLA) operating hours. There are 23 states operating on a limited basis, while 27 have closed their locations altogether.
The closures mean potential drivers aren’t able to get their commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs) or commercial learner’s permits (CLPs). Commercial Vehicle Training Association President Don Lefeve said the abrupt shutdowns are preventing upwards of 40,000 new truck drivers from completing the training and licensing process. This could cause the country’s supply chain to be impacted.
The US was already facing a shortage of truckers before the pandemic hit. Many fear this is just going to make it worse.
Lefeve’s organization is reaching out to governors and asking them to name trucking schools “essential.” The group also wants Congress to grant the secretary of transportation permission to administer the testing necessary to get these drivers licensed.
As the demand for truckers is increasing companies have to keep hiring. They’ve had to make some changes in order to keep it safe for everyone involved.
Some companies are allowing remote access to orientation materials. This eliminates the need for classroom learning. Reducing the length of in-person orientation and reducing the size of those groups is also a smart way to keep everyone safe.
In March, Congress and President Trump passed the CARES Act to provide economic relief for Americans. There’s an increase in demand for essential items, but truckers who delivered automobiles and other goods may be struggling. The small business loans provided by the new law may help fleets make it through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fleets can apply for the Paycheck Protection Program and potentially receive loans to help cover the cost of eight weeks of payroll. Businesses with less than 500 employees and sole proprietors may apply for the program.
The American Trucking Associations (ATA) created a COVID-19 hub on its website that gives drivers information about where they can find help if need be. For example, the president’s paid sick leave policy is explained on the site. There’s also a list of restaurants, truck stops, and other facilities that are accommodating drivers during this difficult time. Hotels across the country are providing discounted rates to essential workers, including truck drivers. The ATA has a running list of discounts.
Keep on Trucking
There’s no doubt the US would not get through this pandemic without truck drivers. They are the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic that are holding the supply chain together. Without their willingness to work around the clock to deliver the supplies needed to restock America’s shelves, the country would grind to a halt.
As they’re working, truckers are also doing their best to keep themselves healthy. While many people can stay home and protect themselves from COVID-19 exposure, truckers aren’t so lucky. Every day they put their lives at risk when they get into their rigs and go about their business. Americans can help keep them safe by social distancing.
For drivers who are suffering financial hardships from the virus, there is help available. The small business loans may lessen the burden on drivers and fleet owners.
This is the first time in more than 100 years the country has faced a pandemic. Truckers are definitely doing their part to get us through it as smoothly as possible.
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