Be Careful Out ThereJune 3, 2017
There’s nothing like the freedom of the open road, driving across our great country, and seeing all the natural beauty America has to offer. What fun it must be to meet people from all over, try local foods, and get paid to do it! Sounds pretty great doesn’t it? That’s what a lot of folks think of when they see an eighteen-wheeler rolling down the interstate. Over-the-road truckers are the nomads of the highway. Adventurers. They’re modern-day explorers and the personification of independence… right? Yes and no. What most people don’t understand or think about is the hazards of being out there for days and sometimes weeks at a time. Those hazards can be physical, emotional and safety related.
What kind of hazards can there be to a truck driver’s physical well-being from driving down the highway? There are quite a few. New research has shown that people who spend hours sitting at their jobs are vulnerable to a long list of health risks, whether that means sitting at a desk or behind the wheel of a big rig. Hours of sitting can affect circulation which can lead to heart disease. In extreme cases, too many hours of sitting without stretching can lead to a blood clot in the lower extremities, or Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). During long periods of inactivity, blood may not circulate properly which can cause a clot to form. Once the person begins moving around the clot can be released and move to the heart, lungs, or brain with devastating or even deadly results.
Poor eating and sleeping habits can take their toll as well. Often a truck driver’s diet consists of way too much fast food grabbed on the run, or diner fare that may taste great but is often laden with too much fat, salt and calories. As a result, significantly more truck drivers are overweight than the rest of the population. Add lack of exercise to the mix and it isn’t difficult to see how potentially dangerous the trucker lifestyle can be to a driver’s long-term health.
Sleep is another problem. While some big rigs may be equipped with a sleeper compartment that borders on luxurious, that’s certainly not the norm. Often a sleeper is a cramped space with a cot-sized foam mattress. Depending on a trucker’s schedule, sleeping hours can be irregular, and quality, restorative sleep can be hard to come by. Researchers are now associating inadequate sleep and poor quality sleep with a growing list of health problems.
Being out on the road for long periods of time can be hard on drivers too. Weeks away from home can result in loneliness and even depression. Life on the road can get pretty boring. It can be particularly hard on family life. There can be years of missed youth sports, school plays and family time with children and spouses. Keeping and maintaining a healthy marriage can be a real challenge.
There is also the stress of keeping to a schedule. The hours a trucker is allowed to work are carefully regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT). A workday can’t exceed 14 hours, and no more than 11 hours of that can be spent driving. A period of 10 hours of downtime per day is also required. When it takes longer than planned to get loaded and unloaded, or the number of miles covered in a day is shortened by bad weather, road construction or traffic delays, keeping to a promised delivery time or driving the required miles to make a profit can be tough and create unrelenting stress.
Safety is another serious issue. Even though over-the-road truckers are among the safest drivers in the country, they are exposed to driving in bad weather, the mistakes and unsafe behaviors of other drivers, and the monotony of driving often unchanging interstate highways for as many as eleven hours a day. Even with their excellent safety record, truckers are exposed to more driving hazards in a week than most people experience in a month.
There are also physical dangers when out on the road. At times a trucker may have to pull over for the night in a less than ideal area. That can make them vulnerable to vandalism, robbery, and other crime. It’s not unusual for truck drivers to be approached by panhandlers, drug dealers, and prostitutes during their down-time. It’s more important than ever for big rig drivers to be aware of their surroundings and stay continuously vigilant to be as safe as possible.
There are a lot of good things about a career as an over-the-road trucker. The pay can be good, there is a certain amount of independence, and drivers do often get to see some truly amazing country and meet all sorts of folks. But there are a lot of challenges and hazards out there on the road as well. When you’re driving down the highway and you see one of the 3 million truck drivers who work to keep America moving, give them a friendly wave, or if you see one in a truck stop, offer to buy their coffee. A few random acts of kindness can mean a lot to a driver making their living out on the road.