The Trucking Industry in the 21st Century

Ellen Voie, President, CEO, Women In Trucking Association, Inc

What is your initial reaction when you are driving along a four-lane highway, and there’s a tractor-trailer next to you? Do you see smokestacks, diesel engines, and a massive machine spewing fumes into the air? Are you afraid of sharing the road with these massive vehicles?

If so, you need to move your perception into the 21st century. No longer are the tractor-trailers of the past even similar to what’s coming off the assembly line today. The trucking industry has embraced technology faster than many industries, but it’s not just about efficiency; it’s also about safety.

Step into the cab of a semi-tractor, and you’ll be amazed at the number of gauges, switches, and knobs. What you don’t see is an oversized steering wheel and two shifting gears connected to the floor.

In fact, the interior cab of today’s truck resembles your car more than you realize. First, the truck has been designed to be more ergonomically correct for all body sizes, which means women are now more comfortable in the driving seat than in the past. Look at the way the dash slopes to accommodate the view out the passenger’s side. Check out the pedals that are adjustable to better accommodate husband and wife teams when one is much taller than the other.

The creature comforts inside the cab include refrigerators, microwaves, more closet space, and often a porta-potty. Lighted cup holders and even 220 outlets in the sleeper berth make it more like home.

What you might not have realized is how clean today’s trucks operate. Due to EPA standards, many trucks actually leave the air cleaner than when it went into the engine. The addition of DEF, or diesel emission fluid, has created much cleaner exhaust.

The EPA Smart Way program also provides guidelines for fuel economy. From low rolling resistance tires to aerodynamic hood shields, trailer skirts, wheel covers, and “tails” on the back of the trailer, diesel fuel savings in the range of ten percent or more can be realized.

Today’s trucks are also safer than your grandfather’s rig. The opportunities are endless to provide technology to reduce driver error by relying on these devices. From personal safety to safety on the road, there are more opportunities to make our roads safer for all of us.

Lane departure warning equipment, anti-rollover devices, side guards, and speed monitors are all becoming common additions to today’s trucks. Some carriers are now replacing mirrors with cameras, so the driver has a better view of the space around the 53- foot trailer.

Personal safety is also a concern. Instead of experiencing worker’s comp claims from cranking dollies or pulling the hood open to inspect the engine, we now have devices that raise and lower the landing gear with the push of a button. There is hydraulics that opens the massive hood and even cameras the show whether your kingpin has been secured or not.

Add to all these technological advances the promise of autonomous trucks, and your tractor-trailer no longer looks like a mass of smoke and diesel fumes.

The technology removes much of the physical strength needed to operate a tractor-trailer in the past. This allows us to attract and keep more women as well as men who prefer a less physically demanding job. Even the burden of loading and unloading the cargo has been automated, and the responsibility has typically been transferred to the shipper and receiver instead of the driver.

The changes the industry is making will also help address the need for more drivers. The jobs are plentiful and offer a decent wage, but a shortage of qualified professional drivers continues. The advancements made in the area of technology not only make the trucks and the roads safer; it makes the job safer. Removing as much of the physical component also helps attract a wider range applicants.

The trucking industry has adopted advanced technology; not only to comply with government regulations but to reduce its footprint on our ecological resources as well as make the job much safer.

The next time you see a tractor-trailer alongside of you on the highway, consider how technology has created a new era of load delivery. These are not your grandfather’s trucks today.

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