In 2017, the trucking industry moved 10.77 billion tons of freight; over 70% of all U.S. domestic tonnage. While the backbone of American consumerism is healthy, most truck drivers are not.
According to a 2018 report, Critical Issues in the Trucking Industry, Driver Health and Wellness is one of the top ten biggest issues affecting the trucking industry and roughly, 1 out of 5 drivers cite health problems as a factor in their decision to leave their position. Long-haul truck drivers have higher rates of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and obesity when compared to other U.S. workers.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), within a 14-hour window, truck drivers may drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
Not only is exercise difficult to fit in while sitting and driving for up to 11 hours at a time but eating healthfully while on the road proves challenging as well. In the past, truck stops made homecooked, hearty and well-balanced meals. Food options then shifted from mom-and-pop restaurants to fast food chains, where the norm became speed and convenience over health. Some drivers even eat while driving in order to save time and maximize their 11 hours of drive time.
Due to these factors and more, a majority of long-haul truck drivers are obese. In fact, 61% of drivers reportedly have two or more of the following: hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, no physical activity, a smoking dependency, and/or 6 or fewer hours of sleep per 24 hour period.
Another issue impacting the quality of life and mental wellness of long-haul truckers is fatigue. Studies show that in some cases, driving fatigued is comparable to drunk driving as it increases the risk of human error. Driving fatigued not only puts the life of the driver at risk but the lives of the other drivers on the road, too. Furthermore, lack of sleep can also negatively affect cholesterol levels, further perpetuating overall health problems.
There is no doubt that trucking has a major impact on a driver’s physical and mental wellbeing. However, truck drivers, fleet owners and other businesses are taking essential steps to improve physical and mental health within the trucking industry.
Fleet owners and managers should not only offer information regarding diet and exercise to new and veteran employees but set team health goals and company-wide incentives. Technology such as activity trackers, heart rate trackers and pedometers are popular, low-cost ways to gamify fitness and track progress. Providing memberships and access to streaming services is another great way to promote health and wellness. Aside from hours of entertainment, most streaming services offer fitness videos with a wide range of categories and ability levels and most routines can be conducted virtually anywhere with little to no supplies.
Some truck stops are getting in on the movement offering a variety of healthy food and drink options, indoor and outdoor exercise facilities or equipment, walking trails, dog parks and more.
It’s a known fact that physical activity can positively affect mental health and wellbeing but there are also strategies fleet owners can employ to better facilitate this.
By providing access to subscription services for quality radio, podcasts and e-books, fleet owners can provide entertaining mental stimulation on a daily basis. Some fleet owners even offer free or discounted tuition for drivers to enroll in college night classes. Being respectful and cognizant of long stretches away from family and friends, is another way to show drivers their happiness and wellbeing is valued.
As for fatigue, it is argued that the strongest strategy to improve sleep and vital downtime within the industry is by calling for flexibility with the sleeper berth provision. Currently the provision is an 8/2 split, which according to the FMCSA means: “drivers using a sleeper berth must take at least 8 hours in the sleeper berth, and may split the sleeper berth time into two periods provided neither is less than 2 hours.” With better flexibility, drivers can opt to rest when they are tired and could craft their driving schedules around time-consuming and frustrating high congestion.
Solutions powered by HERE location intelligence can help optimize truck routing and enhance overall driver experience. Routes based on truck specific attributes such as maximum height and weight clearance, weather, and real-time and historic traffic data can all play into planning the safest, most low-stress route possible. With HERE turn-by-turn navigation, drivers can even be guided seamlessly to the nearest truck stop for food, rest or a little exercise.
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