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The Women In Trucking Association’s annual conference, held virtually out of safety concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, kicked off with a message of positivity Nov. 12.
During her keynote remarks at the event, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said COVID-19 has heightened public appreciation of the supply chain and the truck drivers who keep it moving.
Chao said trucking has not been as heavily impacted by COVID-19 as other transportation modes, especially those that carry passengers in close capacity. She noted that mass transit ridership is down by 63%, while traffic on highways is down about 7% from levels recorded during this time last year.
Hear from @SecElaineChao on major transportation priorities of focus and accomplishments by the @USDOT. These are priorities and policies that will have a major impact on safety, infrastructure, innovation, and operations in commercial freight transportation. Tune in! #WIT2020 pic.twitter.com/wz8QKBWSQ9— WomenInTrucking (@WomenInTrucking) November 12, 2020
The eldest of six daughters, Chao emphasized the importance of female representation in the transportation industry. She encouraged people to explore the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Women & Girls in Transportation Initiative, which offers internship opportunities.
“Women in trucking are the new American heroines,” Chao said. “A diverse workforce at every level will benefit the entire industry and the country. Working together, we can increase the number of heroines working in America’s trucking industry.”
Saluting the men and women of the trucking industry who kept America's essential goods flowing during the coronavirus pandemic.
Chao noted that DOT has taken action to ensure truckers can operate safely during the pandemic. Earlier this year, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration issued an emergency declaration relaxing certain hours-of-service regulations for motor carriers involved in coronavirus-related relief efforts. Chao said the agency also has directed 3 million face coverings to truckers.
Outside of actions related to COVID-19, Chao and FMCSA’s former acting administrator, Jim Mullen, announced FMCSA’s final rule on changes to HOS regulations May 14. It included four revisions that pertain to issues truckers have voiced concerns about, such as the 30-minute rest break and splitting up time in the sleeper berth. The final rule took effect Sept. 29.
“Because of these new rules, truckers can rest when they want to without having to feel like they’re racing against the clock,” Chao said. “We listen carefully to what America’s truckers are asking for, and we delivered.”
Some 500 attendees registered for the virtual conference, which represents the sixth annual conference the Women In Trucking Association has held. According to the association, women make up about 10% of the truck-driving population.
Women present an opportunity to offset the industrywide truck driver shortage, which has ranked No. 1 on the American Transportation Research Institute’s Top Industry Issues list four years in a row. According to a forecast from 2019, American Trucking Associations estimated the industry was lacking 60,800 drivers at the end of 2018. ATA also found that the industry could be short more than 100,000 drivers in five years if conditions don’t change.
Ellen Voie, president of the Women In Trucking Association, noted that research indicates women often are safer truck drivers than men. According to research from ATRI’s updated Crash Predictor Model, released in 2018, men were 88% more likely than women to have a reckless driving conviction. Gender also bore an impact on the likelihood of crash involvement. For example, men were 20% more likely to be involved in a crash than women.
“We all know we still need drivers,” Voie said. “Why would we want to ignore 50% of the population? Why wouldn’t you want a woman in the seat of your cab?”
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