As truck drivers continue to move freight and COVID-19 cases rise across the U.S., business as usual doesn’t look quite the same. Detention times have spiked due to the increase in volumes, but the SONAR Outbound Tender Volume Index (below) shows volumes decreasing just as quickly as they rose when panic-buying began in March.
While #thankatruckdriver has become a social media trend, thousands of truck drivers express frustration over their own health and financial security should they show symptoms on the road. One Michigan-base driver, Rachelle Tuttle, devised a petition asking federal agencies for a health-advice hotline for drivers, 100% coverage for food and housing if a driver gets sick and paid sick leave. As of April 9th, over 31,000 drivers had signed it.
Bob Stanton, a Chicago-based driver who hauls general merchandise for a large carrier, said his employer’s communications regarding sick employees has been nothing more than the standard Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) information, without any coherent action plan.
“What happens to me if I get sick, and I’m too far away from home to get home, or I’m too sick to make it home safely?” said Stanton. “If I got sick and needed to get tested for COVID-19, where can I go? Back in March we started researching that question. On the website TruckersForaCause.com, you’ll see the very meager list we have of places that are truck-accessible to get tested.”
To keep themselves safe, drivers have had to change daily behaviors like keeping a thermometer in the truck, using their own pen to sign forms and utilizing apps to find parking availability away from concentrated COVID-19 cases. But for the most part, drivers work in a face-to-face paper system.
“I have to have a paper bill of lading when I show what I’m carrying,” said Stanton. “Most places I go to, they’ve got like a little slot they pass the paperwork through, and we’re treated like a leper. The last place I picked up, I couldn’t even come inside the building to use the bathroom. At least they placed a portable toilet out in the parking lot, which is better than some.”
Many transportation companies are pivoting their services and even thinking ahead to a post-pandemic industry, where the new normal will require more health and safety vigilance than before COVID-19. In order to keep drivers efficient and safe, idle time and unnecessary human interactions will have to be reduced. Perhaps the technology drivers already use, like electronic logging devices (ELD), can benefit this endeavor to drive innovation.
“ELD solutions can enable customized driver workflows to ensure a driver has no wasted time or unnecessary interactions – like entering a consignee’s facilities to use the break room or bathroom,” said Craig Montgomery, senior vice president of global branding and marketing at Powerfleet. “They can also monitor the engine for diagnostic fault codes and send alerts immediately to a driver and dispatcher in almost real time, so they can take actions to avoid unneeded social interactions and plan accordingly.”
Stanton imagines that on the ELD’s pre-trip DVIR screen, drivers could answer the standard CDC questions regarding their current temperature, for example.
“A driver being able to document he or she has been symptom-free for the previous seven days might be important in travel quarantine restrictions and getting access to some customer’s facilities,” said Stanton. “So if we start now, it might help us in two weeks.”
“Quick changes to existing technology today to help with this environment should be evolutionary, not revolutionary,” said Montgomery. “To make incremental safety improvements for the new world and reduce drivers’ detention time and time wasted looking for a safe place to park, use facilities or get food, transportation companies must reposition how they use their existing technology.”