- Female truckers say they are taking extra precautions to allay safety concerns on the road.
- Cargo theft and crimes against truckers have risen sharply since the pandemic began.
- The non-profit organization Women in Trucking found that the majority of female truck drivers felt unsafe at work.
Jeana Hysell said she carried a knife, a club and a .357 Magnum revolver during the 15 years she worked as a truck driver.
“It was illegal. It wasn’t the right thing to do, but I felt like I had to do it to keep myself safe,” she told Insider, adding that most truck drivers she knew also had guns.
As the trucking industry scrambles to recruit female drivers to address labor shortages, some women say the dangers of the job make them go to great lengths to hide the fact that they are a “lonely woman in a truck.”
And despite greater acceptance of women entering the male-dominated field, five truckers and three safety experts told Insider that female truckers need to take extra precautions to protect themselves on the road.
“We face what every woman faces when she’s traveling alone, except we face it every day,” 27-year-old trucker Trish Bennett told Insider. “I usually do everything I can to avoid publicity that I’m a lonely woman in a truck. I keep my curtains closed and stick to areas where there is better light. I avoid the big cities at night.”
Different ways female truckers are safe
According to a recent survey of over 400 female truckers conducted by the non-profit organization Women in Trucking (WIT), more than 60% of female drivers have felt unsafe on the job at least once. Approximately 20% of respondents reported being threatened by a gun, while 4% reported being raped in the street.
Current and former female truckers who spoke to Insider described protective measures they took along the way, including bringing a dog, whistle-calling rape, learning self-defense, and carrying weapons such as knives, tire beaters, and firearms.
Some drivers also said they made efforts to conceal their gender and avoid tight clothing, as well as taking additional steps such as using makeshift toilets inside the truck, making DIY door locks with ratchet straps and displaying “male” items like baseball hats on the dash.
All five drivers said the most important thing was to be constantly aware of your surroundings.
Several female truck drivers told Insiders they avoid parking in the “back 40” of truck stops to avoid walking long distances across the site alone. However, this is made more difficult by the lack of parking spaces for truck drivers.
But truckers won’t learn these strategies in company training courses or driving schools, Hysell, a former trucker-turned-safety consultant, told Insider. Instead, female riders often rely on each other to learn realistic ways to avoid unsafe situations.
Bennett explained that female coaches and instructors are rare to find.
“[Male trainers] I can’t tell you what to expect as a woman on the street,” she said.
Both male and female drivers say truck stops can be unsafe
To add to safety concerns, cargo theft has skyrocketed since the pandemic began, as congested supply chains and the rising cost of everyday goods have made truckers easy targets. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics consistently lists trucking as one of the top dangerous occupations for vehicle accidents and health problems, and cites high levels of violent crime against truckers.
“If someone intends to break into a truck, they don’t care if it’s a man or a woman,” said Walmart truck driver Carol Nixon. Two male truck drivers told insiders they were mugged and their personal belongings stolen at rest stops.
“I’m very suspicious of other people when I’m on the road,” said 26-year-old trucker Sally Feinen. “Lorry drivers used to be known for stopping people on the side of the road and helping them. Now we never know if they are waiting to rob you.”
The majority of truck drivers surveyed in another WIT survey identified truck stops and service areas as places with “significant safety risks”.
While there is no federal law prohibiting truck drivers from carrying weapons, including firearms, many trucking companies do not permit company drivers to carry weapons of any kind.
Feinen said her porter doesn’t allow her to carry clubs, meaning her only weapon is her truck’s tire beater, a wooden bat-shaped tool that helps a truck driver check tire pressure.
“There are some women who will tell you they are always afraid. And then there are some women who say there’s never anything to worry about,” said Nixon, the Walmart driver. “We all have different experiences, different opinions. Overall, it’s still a great job.”