Safer female truckers outperform male drivers

DALLAS — Female truckers are sliding into long-haul cabs as companies seek to end a U.S. driver shortage, and they’re proving to be better behind the wheel than men.

That’s no surprise to Stephanie Klang, 57, who used to drive in a team with her former husband. She stays on the road alone for up to five weeks and lives out of her truck with her cats as companions. “We’re more patient.”

Whether measuring accidents, inspections or compliance issues, women drivers are outperforming males, according to Werner Enterprises Inc. Chief Operating Officer Derek Leathers. He expects women to make up about 10 percent of the freight hauler’s 9,000 drivers by year’s end. That’s almost twice the national average.

“It’s important to kind of rebuff the myths,” Leathers said at an industry conference in Dallas. “They are winning in multiple categories across the fleet.”

Trucking companies see women as a large untapped labor pool that may ease a driver shortfall that’s expected to grow to 400,000 by 2017. Job-recruitment campaigns are being planned, including at Werner, targeting women by highlighting the industry’s increased salaries and updated fleets with new creature comforts such as larger sleeper cabs.

“We want to cast the net as wide as we can cast it,” Leathers said, “It’s an opportunity for the industry.”

More women have taken the wheel, according to the American Trucking Associations. They accounted for 5.8 percent of the 3.4 million U.S. truck drivers last year, compared with 4.6 percent in 2010. National safety figures don’t get broken down by gender, the group said.

Most of the female truckers at Covenant Transportation Group Inc. work in two-person driving teams, including some mother-daughter pairings, said Chief Executive Officer David Parker.

“They do a great job,” he said, and are proving to be more cautious and attentive behind the wheel. He said about 16 percent of the Chattanooga, Tennessee, company’s 2,400 drivers are women.

More women are willing to go solo on the road, said Swift Transportation Co. COO Richard Stocking. He estimated that 6 percent to 7 percent of his 19,000 drivers are female, and about half of those drive alone.

Cleaner terminals, schedules that guarantee home time, automatic transmissions and safer truck stops have all been crucial to attracting and retaining female drivers, said Werner’s Leathers. The company is planning a campaign with print ads and radio spots to encourage more women to apply.

“Most of us are looking for any viable source of new talent,” he said. “I don’t think we’ve done a good job marketing to women.”

Life on the road has gotten easier for women, said Klang, who drives a Kenworth big rig for Con-way Inc. When she started driving in 1980, there was no power steering, sleeper cabs were cramped, truck stops were dirty and crime-ridden and, worst of all, the showers were all located in the men’s bathroom.

“I’d have to get up at 2 a.m. and they’d close the men’s room for me,” said Klang, who lives in Joplin, Missouri. “Now, the showers are all private and clean.”

Her advice to women contemplating a behind-the-wheel career: “You will have down time in the truck,” she said. “Make the truck your home.”

Freight companies, shippers and truck manufacturers also are paying more attention to women and their needs, said Char Pingel, membership director for the industry group Women in Trucking, which was founded in 2007. Changes can range from allowing pets in the cab to designing seats that are more adaptable to women to “no-touch” cargo that doesn’t require heavy lifting.

“Women don’t know they can do the job,” Pingel said. “It used to be burly truckers who endured without all the modern conveniences.”

People should expect to see more women behind the wheel of big rigs on the highway, and that’s a good thing, Werner’s Leathers said.

“Those drivers right now are driving safer,” he said, without providing specific details. “The stats are there. They do a nice job.”

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

Twins Leslie Davis (left) and Lyndsay Lamb stage a house in Everett as seen on the second season of "Unsellable Houses" on HGTV. (HGTV photo)
Sold: Snohomish twins back for more HGTV ‘Unsellable Houses’

The makeover show’s 13 episodes feature Snohomish County homes, with decor items sold at new store.

Tuesday's career fair will be at Everett Community College, which incidentally is also one of the participants. (Sue Misao / Herald file)
Snohomish County Career Fair set for Tuesday at EvCC

Job seekers can connect with more than 40 employers at this year’s annual event.

Workers build the first all-electric commuter plane, the Eviation Alice, at Eviation's plant on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021 in Arlington, Washington.  (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
All eyes on Alice, the electric plane made in Arlington

If all goes well, Eviation’s battery-powered airplane will make its debut test flight later this year.

Snohomish County unemployment rate drops slightly to 5.6%

Washington added 16,800 jobs in August.

Report: Criminal indictment coming for former Boeing official

Mark Forkner was the 737 Max Chief Technical Pilot who is alleged to have lied to aviation regulators.

Bufeng Gao, owner of Qin Xi'an Noodles, receives a check from the Edmonds Chamber Foundation's Wish Fund outside of her restaurant that was burned in a fire on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021 in Edmonds, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
After arson burns Edmonds plaza, 14 businesses need help

Plum Tree Plaza — a cultural hub for Asian Americans — burned in a three-alarm fire early Sept. 11.

Hand drawn vector illustration of bottle of red wine and two glasses. Abstract cartoon style isolated.
You voted: The best wine list in Snohomish County

Even during a pandemic, folks still have their favorites.

Boeing sells land for $200M in plan to shrink holdings

Boeing has sold 310 acres of undeveloped land next to its Frederickson manufacturing plant.

Washington August jobless rate was 5.1%; 16,800 jobs added

August’s rate was the same as July’s rate, and increased even as COVID-19 cases surge.

Boeing moving 150 jobs from Washington and California to Texas

The affected jobs are in the company’s global parts distribution unit.

Commercial Aircraft Interiors General Manager James Barnett stands in a warehouse aisle of 777 overhead bins at the company's new building on Monday, May 20, 2019 in Arlington, Wash. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
12 Snohomish County aero firms get $19M for job protection

The Aviation Manufacturing Jobs Protection grants could save 2,280 Washington jobs for up to six months.

FILE - The logo for Boeing appears on a screen above a trading post on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Tuesday, July 13, 2021. Despite the pandemic's damage to air travel, Boeing says it's optimistic about long-term demand for airplanes. Boeing said Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021 that it expects the aerospace market to be worth $9 trillion over the next decade. That includes planes for airlines and military uses and other aerospace products and services. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, file)
Pandemic hasn’t dimmed Boeing’s rosy prediction for planes

The company is bullishly predicting a $9 trillion market over the next decade.