As the number of coronavirus cases in the United States continues to rise, motor carriers are seeking to develop protocols to limit drivers’ exposure to the highly contagious virus as they navigate shippers, receivers and public facilities like truck stops for showers and meals.
The FreightWaves Research team recently surveyed 115 motor carriers of all sizes about what safety protocols they have implemented during these unprecedented times to protect their drivers, as well as what others in the supply chain are doing to curb the spread of the pandemic throughout the U.S.
Guidance to drivers
Nearly 91% of carriers surveyed stated that drivers have been directed to maintain personal or social distance whenever possible. More than 48% of trucking companies directed their drivers to remain in the trucks if possible during the loading and unloading process, while nearly 44% instructed drivers not to share pens when signing paperwork.
Driver, what’s your temperature and travel history?
Some drivers told FreightWaves they have been asked to fill out visitor health assessment forms at shippers and receivers, inquiring whether they have traveled out of the country, have flu-like systems, and if they or someone they know has been quarantined because of the coronavirus. Others reported they’ve had their temperature taken, and if it’s above 99.4 degrees they are not allowed on the dock or inside the facilities. Some have been denied bathroom access at shippers and receivers until the virus has been contained.
Of those surveyed, 51 carriers stated that around 44% of shippers they deal with have begun requiring drivers to complete and submit health questionnaires before entering their facilities, while 32 carriers said none of their shippers have inquired about drivers’ health and possible exposure to the coronavirus.
Drivers’ biggest fears amid pandemic
On Wednesday, Pennsylvania said it will reopen most of its highway rest areas, one day after it stated it would close all 36 of its rest stops and access to critical parking it provides for truckers in response to the coronavirus outbreak. Truck parking will now be available at the open sites; however, access to the restrooms will remain closed, the state agency said. (Six of the rest stops were already closed for repairs.)
Carriers surveyed were asked to rank drivers’ most significant concerns amid the pandemic on a scale of 1-5, (with 5 being the highest concern). Drivers stated that closed rest areas were the top concern, ranking about 3.2, followed by a 3 ranking for truck stops no longer serving meals. The third concern, which ranked a 2.3, is crowds at truck stops. The CDC is warning people to avoid crowds whenever possible as public gatherings, schools, sporting events and music concerts continue to be canceled or rescheduled.
Motor carriers’ confidence in drivers remaining on the road
The FreightWaves survey asked carriers if they are confident that at least 75% of their drivers will remain on the road during this COVID-19 national emergency.
Of the carriers surveyed, 24% stated they are extremely confident that 75% of their drivers will continue to haul freight, while 44% said they were fairly confident and 20% stated they were somewhat confident.
Understanding HOS suspension for carriers hauling essential supplies
Since the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an unprecedented national emergency order to suspend hours-of-service (HOS) regulations for commercial vehicle drivers hauling essential coronavirus equipment and supplies in all 50 states, there has been confusion in the trucking industry about what the HOS waiver actually means.
Around 60% of carriers surveyed stated they understood the new HOS exemption, while 33% answered no and an additional 7% stated they were unsure what the new rules mean for those hauling medical, disinfectant and emergency food for restocking store shelves.
What to do if drivers develop symptoms?
Some drivers told FreightWaves their biggest fear is falling ill with the highly contagious virus while on the road, possibly thousands of miles from home. Others stated that even if they test positive for the coronavirus, there’s no way they can self-quarantine for 14 days because their livelihoods and their families depend on their income derived by the number of miles they run each week.
While some drive-thru testing facilities have started popping up around the country, as of Wednesday, there aren’t any that can accommodate an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer, and most hospitals and urgent care centers don’t have truck parking spaces available.
However, Mitch Strobin, senior vice president of UrgentCareTravel, the chain that operates the Pilot clinics, said the company had ordered coronavirus test kits for its 13 facilities.
Carriers surveyed were asked what guidance drivers have been given if they display symptoms of the virus while out on the road.
Several responses urged drivers to seek medical help immediately, self-quarantine and not to return to work until they are symptom-free.
Some carriers stated drivers should refer to the internal protocols they have developed; others are developing internal protocols or are working on guidance for drivers to follow if they become ill. The majority of those surveyed said communication is key and for drivers to contact a dispatcher or a safety manager or call the company’s human resources department if they display symptoms of the coronavirus.
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 7,000 people in the U.S., plus Washington, D.C., and three U.S. territories, have tested positive for coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Read more articles by FreightWaves’ Clarissa Hawes. If you are a truck driver with concerns about motor carriers’ safety protocols amid the coronavirus, send an email here.