A federal study attempting to assess threats and assaults against female and minority truckers needs to be overhauled before it can be considered meaningful for the trucking industry, according to an adviser to regulators.
“Crime Prevention for Truckers Study,” a survey sponsored by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Office of Research and conducted by the Battelle Memorial Institute, was unveiled Wednesday at the first meeting of FMCSA’s Women of Trucking Advisory Board (WOTAB). The 16-member panel was mandated as part of the infrastructure law signed last year to encourage women to enter the trucking industry.
The study’s results and methodology, however, came under immediate fire from WOTAB member Anne Balay, an author and union organizer. Balay, who also worked as a commercial truck driver, was particularly concerned about the study’s finding that “touched inappropriately” was the most serious offense reported among survey respondents.
“I’m a social scientist and I’ve done extensive research on this subject, and I have to say that hearing that being touched inappropriately is the most severe reportage is incredibly inaccurate,” Balay said during the public meeting. “Rape is incredibly common, and calling rape as being ‘touched inappropriately’ is extremely offensive. I interviewed many [women] truckers who reported that rape is considered a part of the job. It’s very important that this group acknowledges that.”
Members of the panel were also concerned about the breadth of the survey and who was asked to respond to it. Of the 653 participants, approximately 70% were men — and of those, 63% were white. Studies have shown that out of approximately 3.5 million truck drivers in the country, 7% (245,000) are women.
“I was one of the 200 women who responded that I had received multiple harassment issues,” said WOTAB member Kellylynn McLaughlin, a former Schneider National truck driver. “I’m constantly surprised by the low numbers of respondents in surveys that are supposed to represent us. We know that when it comes to rape or harassment, it’s most often not reported because it’s difficult and often not well received. But I don’t know a single woman driver that has not encountered some sort of harassment.
“How do we get real numbers, more than 200 women to respond to a survey? I would like to see action items in how we get better numbers. There’s power in numbers.”
Tom Keane, FMCSA’s associate administrator in the agency’s Office of Research, said he was “happy” with the responses FMCSA received but also acknowledged the survey’s shortcomings and concerns from the board.
“To the point about rape, it may have to do with limitations within the scope of the survey,” said Keane, noting that certain respondents said they did not want to go into detail about their experiences. “I think that speaks to the seriousness of the crimes that are being committed. We consider this a first step from our vantage point. However, we welcome all input to improve it.
“It is my intent to follow up on this as we move forward collectively, so I would welcome input to improve subsequent surveys.”
Keane listed a series of “next steps” with regard to the survey, which included developing and distributing outreach materials to amplify it through social media and industry conference presentations.
Balay cautioned, however, that instead of publicizing the initial survey, “we as the Women in Trucking Advisory Board need to challenge how this survey was done and get a survey that has data that is meaningful and reflects what is happening in our industry.”
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