Cheri Peters was born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska. She spent a lot of time reading books as a kid, sometimes high up in her favorite Maple tree. Some of her favorite memories from childhood are the summer vacations she spent camping with her family in National and State parks all over the United States.
After High School, she worked various types of jobs as a cashier, cocktail waitress, flower arranger, and application/filing clerk at Mutual of Omaha. She soon realized that she needed to go to College, or die of humdrum tedium, and be found years later, dusty and dead behind said filing cabinet.
Deciding on Nursing School, she graduated in 1984, passed her Board examinations and worked as an RN in various Emergency Departments around the country. Ten years later, burnout took its toll, and she chose to go inactive.
Her second profession was repairing OSHA mandated metal mesh Safety equipment used in meat packing facilities.
By the time she was 37 years old, she had been told by three Doctors, including a Reproductive Endocrinologist, that she would never have children. Proving all those Doctors wrong, she did get pregnant and gave birth to her only child when she was 39 years old. Her third profession as a full time Mother was outside the waged workforce, but was the most rewarding job of all.
Her fourth profession was working as a CDL Class A Truck Driver, which she started when she was 56 years old. Being an older, white female, in a white male dominated field, is not the usual demographic, nor was it an easy road to navigate.
NP: Why truck driving?
Peters: One of the main reasons that I chose Trucking, was because I needed a job that would provide me the kind of financial stability that a single Mom needed. The research that I did on the Industry always talked about 3 things:
The first was that I would always have job security because of the desperate shortage of drivers, which is still true, and worsening every year.
The second was that there were “local jobs everywhere”, which meant that I could still be at home every night to do all the things parents do.
The third was that I could make up to, and possibly more than a six figure income. Woo Hoo! I liked the sound of that! The most that I’d ever made as an RN, was around 40K, and that required years of Schooling, and a bunch of overtime, hence the burnout. You can work 70-80 hours a week for only so long…
Schooling was only 4-6 weeks for Trucking, and then you were on your way to the “Big Money”. Of course that was in theory, with the “in real life” details never mentioned in the fine print. Some drivers “make bank”, while most others struggle financially. Every situation is different for each driver.
Lastly, I chose Trucking because I’ve always loved driving. When I was 13, I could not wait to get my Learner’s Permit. Finally, my 14th Birthday arrived, and I marched my little backside down to the Department of Motor Vehicles, and did all the things necessary to get that tiny piece of paper. My Dad taught me how to drive a manual transmission, which gave me an edge in Trucking School because you learn how to double clutch and shift a manual transmission truck right off the bat.
NP: What is it like driving an 18-Wheeler?
Peters: I can say that it’s not as “romantic” as some people think. Not all Trucks are created equally, nor do they ride the same. Some of them are truly uncomfortable to drive because the seats feel like the manufacturer took a hard metal slab, covered it with some fabric, and called it a chair. The interior layouts vary, with some being quite intuitive, and others leaving you scratching your head wondering where this or that control knob or toggle is. I’ve only driven company trucks, but I know that there are Owner/Operators that have customized their trucks, and I’d bet real money that those trucks are comfortable and sweet to drive.
The Company trucks that I drove were literally the “rejects” on the lot. We were assigned the trucks that had over 250,000 miles on them, drove them until they had 400,000-420,000 miles on them, and then they would be sold to some other poor driver who didn’t know any better.
Driving different models and makes of company trucks gave me the chance to get to know what I liked and what I didn’t in a truck. Our Division ran 24/7/365, with a Day Driver, and a Night Driver. Each of us put on roughly 550 miles per person, or 1100 miles per day on our trucks.
The very first truck I drove had a door that would vibrate so horrendously that it would spontaneously rattle open while I was driving 68 mph down the road. I felt really bad for the person that bought that truck. I definitely wanted to leave a note in the glove box for the buyer saying “Don’t buy this truck! Run for your life! Make sure to wear your seat belt or you’ll be killed when the door vibrates open at 68 mph!”, but I didn’t want to get fired.
This same truck stopped some old timer trucker dead in his tracks while I was in the fuel line. He looked the truck over, whistled and said “Damn! I didn’t think they made those anymore! I haven’t seen one of those in decades!” Wow.
Driving an 18-wheeler also has innumerable variables that have to be factored into the “driving equation”. Meaning, all of the things that need to be answered, looked at, or prepared before you even get in your Truck. Each and every variable determines how to drive, and any of these known variables can change in a split second once you’re behind the wheel. You also have to react to a sudden, previously unknown variable too.
You have to look at things like: What’s the weather like? What condition is your Truck and Trailer in? Have you done your Pre-Trip inspection on both your Tractor and Trailer? Are there any defects, safety issues, or potential violations that you could get ticketed for? How heavy is your load? What time of day is it? What kind of Truck are you driving that day? Where are you driving? What kind of geographical terrain are you in now, or going to be in later? What condition are the roads in? What’s the Traffic like and are there any construction cones or zones? Do you have any low clearances to watch out for? Do you have a HazMat load and now need to follow those rules and regs? Are you sleepy? Are you well fed and have enough caffeine in your bloodstream? Are you feeling OK, or are you sick?
I drove dry vans, but truckers that drive flatbeds, tankers, livestock haulers and reefers also have additional variables that have to be taken into consideration.
My truck was governed at 68 mph, but some companies govern their trucks at less or more speeds. Road conditions at that speed, with 2,500-45,000 pounds of freight come at you fast. Sudden changes like deer, or other animals in the road, unexpected wind gusts, some jerk pulling in front of you, flying objects hitting you, huge carcasses already in the road, and sudden weather events, are all variables that you only have a split second to deal with.
One time while driving through a horrible thunderstorm, I had the hair on my entire body suddenly raise straight up in warning, so I instinctively braked a bit.A millisecond later I saw a blinding flash, and then heard the crack of lightning. If I hadn’t braked when my hair stood straight up, the lightning would have struck my truck instead of the road right in front of me. Luckily, I was only blinded for a few seconds, but my ears rang for hours after that, not only from the lightning, but from my own screaming. That all happened in less than a second, and if you don’t deal with these changing variables in just the right way, you could jackknife, crash, cause a crash, or unfortunately, accidentally kill someone or yourself.
Each and every time you get behind the wheel is a different driving experience, and you need to be ready for everything that comes up. Not to sound morbid, but it’s true that each and every time you drive, could be the last time you drive as well. Is each and every time you get behind the wheel as stressful as this sounds?
Absolutely not, but these are some of the variables that determine what it’s like to drive an 18-wheeler, because every drive is unique unto itself.
Is it fun? For me, yes it is! Most of the time! Is it stressful? It can be, but for the most part, the stressors are temporary and will pass. Is it boring? Sometimes, but there are remedies for that. Is it dangerous? Absolutely. Sometimes more than others, especially if you factor in the weather conditions for each area of the United States.
Every season has some horrible weather that needs to be taken in to consideration, and any of it can really mess up the delivery schedule on both sides of a swap, or scheduled delivery. Nebraska weather alone, has severe thunderstorms and tornado activity in Spring and Summer, causing dangerous winds, hail, and blinding rain. In the fall, not only did the dense fog cause severe visibility issues, the freezing fog made night driving downright treacherous. I’d never even seen freezing fog before, but it coated everything and looked like the glaze you see on donuts, except that it was frozen and deadly. The black ice, snow drifts and blizzards were conditions to watch out for in the winter months, but I drove through all of it as much as I could until the State Patrol closed the Interstates down for safety reasons.
I think the thing that people don’t understand about driving a truck, that I really wish they did understand, is the Trailer weight variable that I mentioned before. As a car driver, you have NO idea how much my load weighs, and therefore, NO idea how my tractor or trailer are going to react to the unknown variables. If I’m heavy, and hauling 45,000 pounds of freight, there is no way in hell that I can stop if you pull in front of me and cut me off. You are going to get hit, or even worse, run over.
If I’m light, and literally sailing down the highway with less than 15,000 pounds, and a 25-35 mph wind gust comes up, you will only have seconds to get out of the way if I get blown into your lane. Or worse yet, I could get blown completely over, and land on top of you if you happen to be on the side of me. Which is why you should never, ever hang out on the side of a tractor trailer. Pass me quickly and then get the hell out of the way. Driving down the road right next to me, at 65-75 mph is not the place to be best friends, so don’t make the mistake of hanging out with me right there. We can be friends after the keys are out of the ignition.
I think one of the absolute best things about driving for a living, is being able to look at the scenery, if there is any.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been in every state of the United States, except for a few in the northeast corner, and Alaska. Sometimes I’ve gone around a bend in the road, or reached the top of a hill, and BAM! the view is sublimely stunning, and renders me speechless, which is not an easy thing to do! I loved being high up and being able to see for miles and miles on a clear weather day.
One time I was driving in the middle of Kansas, somewhere between Salina and Dodge City on Highways 156/50/56 and I could see the Rocky Mountains in Colorado in the distance. That’s at least over 350 miles away, but I could still see the entire mountain range, spreading north to south in the distance! I didn’t believe it, so I literally pulled out my map, and checked just to make sure that it was the Rocky Mountains that I was seeing. and sure enough, it was! The combination of incredibly clear and sunny weather, along with the pancake flat Grasslands that stretched as far as the eye could see, enabled me to see hundreds of miles that day. There are so many beautiful places to see in the United States, and getting paid while I see them is pretty cool if you ask me.
NP: What kind of hours did you work, and where did you drive?
Peters: During Training I drove an “All 48 State” route, meaning driving and delivering “dry vans” in all of the lower 48 States. Some accounts had “Reefers”, meaning Refrigerated Trailers, while other routes were for Flatbeds. I was told that I had to tarp my own loads for flatbeds, and that sometimes the tarps weighed 250-350 pounds. Hard pass! Maybe some other person stronger than me might want to do that job. The All 48 State route was just that, making deliveries in all 48 States over and over again. The Truck only stopped when we needed to fuel, eat, potty, get groceries on our 36 hour reset, and shower. We only bathed on Wednesday and Saturday, and the rest of the time you just slept in the clothes you drove in. So nasty! By the middle of training, I was running as a Team 24/7 with my Trainer, but he was the one who got paid for all of my miles, while I only got a small weekly stipend.
After my Training was finished, I had a “home daily” job, which is a little bit different gig than OTR (Over the Road), or Long-Haul Trucking. I needed this type of Home Daily job because I still had a child in High School at home. I figured that as soon as my kid was in College, I could possibly do an OTR route, but in the meantime, I could cut some baby teeth on this Home Daily gig. Trucking in general, is not set up for single parents who are tasked with the responsibilities of childcare. Some of these OTR jobs put Truckers out on the road for weeks at a time. It depends on the Route, but some of the Accounts require 4-6 weeks out at a time, and some let you be home weekly. Hardly anyone with children still at home can do a decent job as a single Parent with a schedule like that, so having this “Home daily” job was exactly what I needed. My division ran all hours, but I worked the night shift 12 AM- 12 PM, Thursday through Monday.
Most Trucking jobs aren’t hourly. and even though it was an hourly based shift, you get paid “X” amount of cents per mile (CPM) that you drive. So if the wheels aren’t turning, you’re not getting paid. I’ve crunched the numbers and suffice it to say, you don’t get paid for a lot of your labor with the current pay system that most Trucking companies use. Which means that those same Trucking Companies exploit drivers, and make millions off of their free labor and time. Some companies are going to an hourly rate, or a combination of CPM and hourly pay. There are even Lawsuits currently underway about this very issue, so I don’t know how it will end up down the road. What I DO know, is that I hated working for free, on a daily basis. No one should be working for free, so it’s no wonder that there’s a massive shortage of truckers! Trucking companies do not consider a drivers time valuable. They just consider it as “part of getting the job done”, even though almost every other wage job out there pays a person by the hour.
Companies act like they are ENTITLED to your time, and it’s expected that you comply with their demands, even though it’s completely uncompensated. I only got paid .32 CPM for the miles I drove, while other OTR/ Long Haul truckers can start at .45 CPM and up. I drove 8 hours solid every night, plus did all the other things that I had to do to get the job done.
Things like fueling, inspections, scaling, hooking up/ unhooking trailers, dropping off trailers etc., that would regularly make my shift a 10 hour shift. Sometimes things would happen that caused delays, and I would end up working 11-14 hour shifts on a regular basis. If you do the math on that with the CPM method, that’s ..32 cpm X 550 miles = $176.00/shift. That sounds great, until you found out that each shift wasn’t 8 hours, but averaged 10-11 hours to finish the work. That’s roughly $16-17 dollars an hour, but none of the truckers I knew ever saw that amount on their paychecks due to taxes, insurance, HSA, etc. The longest shift I ever worked was from 10:00 pm Monday night to 2:00pm Tuesday the next day. Only 8 hours out of that 16 was actual driving time. The other 8 hours was totally uncompensated while I waited for repairs, and stayed for a mandatory inspection. So 176.00 divided by 16 hours, ended up being 11.00/hr. A day shift job at a fast food place would give me that same amount of money.
The equations and math are different for Owner/Operators, but I will say that my Trainer who was an O/O, was routinely making over $150,000.00 a year. Again, half of that is because he got paid for all of my miles, which were miles that he never drove. You can drive over 700 miles during one 11 hour DOT driving shift, he got paid over $1.00 per mile, and we ran 24/7 after the first week..
There wasn’t a day that I was on his truck that he didn’t make at the very least, $500.00 dollars from my miles. After becoming a Solo driver, my learning curve really kicked in. My Trainer taught me a bunch, but not everything that you need to learn comes up while you’re in Training. When I first started Trucking School, I thought “Gee, how hard is it to drive from one place to another?” That’s not even the right question, and trucking is not necessarily hard, but there are still a ton of things that you have to learn about the job. Some things can be gleaned from a textbook, but most can only be learned by being on the job.
This particular Home daily job was to drive from the Terminal to the established location, swap Trailers with a driver from the Colorado side, and then drive that new trailer back to the Terminal. Since all of this has to be done within the Department Of Transportation Hours Of Service (DOT-HOS) allotted time, you can only drive a limited number of miles. Each route was a solid 4 hours there, and 4 hours back, so that’s at least 8 hours, out of the allotted 11 hours of driving time. Of course there were always delays, and I had to take my DOT mandated 30- minute break somewhere in there, but it was always at least 8 hours of solid driving in optimal weather conditions. If there was bad weather that I had to slow down for that added hours to my DOT clocks that I really didn’t have. Or worse, I might end up having to stay in a truck stop, or be stuck on the side of the road if the weather got too bad. The other preparatory work that had to happen before and after the driving part, or the delays that occurred at times, could only take up to 6 hours more before your 14-hour workday DOT Clock ran out of time.
If you ran out of time, you HAD to stop, or face the wrath of the Logs Department, or worse, face a fine and be put “Out Of Service” by the DOT.
If they caught you, that is. Trust me, I know well the wrath of which I speak. I ran out of driving time the second week on the job, but I was only 10 miles from the Terminal. There was no way in hell that I was going to spend the night in my Truck 10 miles from home. Especially when I had a kid to feed, and 3 animals to take care of. So I pulled a “Super Trucker” move, blew through my clocks, and continued driving until I got to the Terminal. The Logs Department ripped me a new one, and dinged me to boot, even though I was only 10 measly miles from the Terminal. Whew! They were HOT about that! The ELD’s, or Electronic Logging Devices, which were recently mandated by the FMCSA in 2018, make it pretty impossible to “cheat” on your Logs. I wasn’t trying to cheat, I was just a Newbie and wasn’t clear about my clock times quite yet. I had also stopped for a repair to the truck, which totally screwed everything up. I learned from that mistake, never made it again, and watched my Clocks like a hawk after that. Yikes. It wasn’t worth it to piss off that many people at once.
Unfortunately, I worked the night shift, and I hated that shift for the most part. For so many legitimate reasons too. I had worked nights as an RN, and I handled that reasonably well, so I thought that it would be the same sort of deal. The three words “not even close” don’t even describe how different and horrible that shift was on my body some 30 years later. Suffice it to say, I think I would have been dead in 3-5 years had I not quit that job.
However, the night shift did have some positive aspects to it. I really enjoyed seeing the stars on a clear night, which was easily done because some parts of I-80 are dark as hell. Which sucks if you’re broke down though, or blow a tire like I did at 2:00 in the morning. It took the repair guy till 4:30 to get there, and even though I felt bad for getting him out of bed in the middle of the night, I was still kind of bug-eyed just sitting there, in that moonless deserted blackness all by myself.
I could only see 10-15 feet in front of my truck, and only when my emergency flashers blinked. I was in the middle of nowhere, with freaking corn fields on either side of me, in rural NE. I could hear the corn rustling every now and then, and I thought for sure that some wild animal, or worse, the Children of the Corn were going to crawl out of the cornfield and get me. Not really, but I was spooked and my imagination was definitely in overdrive. I just stayed in my truck and looked at the stars that way.
My favorite place to stop and stare at the stars, when it was clear enough to do so, was in Brady, NE. We’re talking pitch black abyss on New Moon nights, and for a city girl like me, who’s never seen the stars like that before, it was gorgeously surreal. The celestial heavens were divinely exhilarating, and the billions of stars obscured even the simple constellation of Cassiopeia at first. I had to use my Starwalk App to help me find it, and locate my bearings, which was a bit humbling. It took me 2 minutes, out of my 30-minute DOT break to figure out that city lights and country darkness will give me two entirely separate pieces of sky. I’ve been an avid stargazer for years, but nothing prepared me for the night sky in the country. The other consistent bonus to working nights, was that I got to see the sunrise every single morning.
Contrary to popular belief, Nebraska isn’t all flat, but a good portion of I-80 is. This made watching the sun rise super easy because you could see every part of the horizon for hundreds of miles at a time. Add to that, the fact that we were heading due east every morning, and we were set up for perfect natural amphitheater viewing. Mother Nature sure knows how to put on a show, and my coworker and I both tried to take pictures of the sunrise. We could never capture the magnificence of being there and watching the sun come up on camera, but that never took away from how magical driving during that time of the morning was/is. Driving by myself, not having to deal with other people, and being able to witness the beauty of nature, was one of the things I love most about trucking.
NP: What do you think are the positive & negative effects that trucking has on society’s infrastructure?
Peters: I think the biggest positive thing, that most people do not even realize is that Trucking isn’t just part of the infrastructure, it IS the Infrastructure.
The fact is, NONE OF US would eat, and we wouldn’t have ANY item on ANY Retail “shelf”, without the Trucking industry. Before I became a Trucker, I was clueless about this fact. All I knew, and frankly cared about, was if MY stuff, the stuff that I wanted, was on the shelf or not. I never gave one thought as to how it got there, and just acted like “The Retail Fairies of the Universe” put it there just for me and mine. Sometimes I’m ashamed to admit that I was this clueless about all the things that truckers go through to get our stuff on the shelves, but there it is. Frankly, I think most people still think this way because they’ve never had to think about a trucker’s lifestyle either. It would serve all of us to know what truckers go through because we would definitely have more appreciation for the infrastructure and the people who provide for our needs.
Truckers haul various and sundry things, but I can say with certainty, that every single thing that we see and touch in this world, got there because a trucker brought it, or the raw materials to build it, right there to the site. We owe Truckers a great deal of appreciation and gratitude for doing the job that they do.
Unfortunately, what I and many other Truckers encounter instead, was/is downright Classist snobbery.
When people found out that I had been a Nurse before, they immediately asked in an incredulous tone, “Why didn’t you go back to Nursing? Why would you ever want to be a Trucker?” Like it was something bad or vile to get in to. The perception that was/is held by many people in the general public is that Truckers are “dirty”, “stupid”, and “ignorant”, or all three, and that it’s a job that is “less than” other jobs that “really matter”, like Doctors, Engineers, Lawyers and the like.
I even had the head of Safety tell me that “I can see that you’re very intelligent, but you don’t need to be intelligent to do the job of a trucker. In fact, most truckers that come through here are one or two generational steps away from being a Neanderthal”.
The job is considered by many people to be way down the ladder on the Employment, as well as the Social Hierarchy scale, which is a total bullshit scale by the way. Time after time, I heard how some trucker’s parent or grandparent, had also been a trucker, so I was surprised that trucking was passed down generationally. Trucking is an honest day’s work, and it takes quite a few skills that not everyone possesses to do the job. I’m here to dispel the myth that anyone can be a success at this job, because they can’t. I’m also here to dispel the myth that truckers are dumb/stupid/idiots. Granted, many truckers may not have a college education, but that never makes somebody an idiot or stupid. To even judge somebody’s intelligence solely on their level of education is ridiculous Classism.
Intelligence comes in many forms, and emotional intelligence is overlooked far too often. Truckers who are most successful have a brain that is wired for logistical and spatial awareness, and a personality type that can handle living a solitary lifestyle. You really have to like your own company, and many truckers listen to audiobooks to fill the time. Most truckers have plain old “life smarts”, which goes a long way towards surviving out there in the real world. There are a great many skills that are learned OJT, and if you don’t have them already, or can learn them fast, you will not survive in the trucking wilderness. Living OTR (Over the Road) is its own kind of jungle, and frankly, the road is not a friendly jungle.
It can and will eat you alive, sometimes through no fault of your own. Which leads me to one of the main negative effects suffered by the entirety of the Trucker population at one point or another. It’s a well-known fact that this job is terrible for any trucker’s health because all we do is sit on our butts and drive most of the day or night. It’s worse than doing an Office job, because the constant vibrations, bouncing and jouncing down the road, compact the spinal vertebrae over time. Especially if you have one of those cloth covered slabs of metal they try to pass off as a seat in your truck. I don’t know of anyone who wouldn’t get stiff and sore after sitting on that same seat, for at least 4-5 hours straight, and 8-11 hours every day. Every single day or night, I’ve seen many a driver gimp and hobble their way out of their trucks, and into the truck stop when they stopped for fuel, food, or rest.
All of this sitting not only affects the Musculoskeletal aspects of the body, it also impacts many other Systems and Cycles of the body, and all in a detrimental way. According to the CDC and NIOSH, (Centers for Disease Control and Protection/National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) the resulting poor health and illnesses are sometimes at rates double and triple that of any other profession in the US workforce. Most notably affected is the Circulatory System, which includes conditions such as Hypertension, High Cholesterol, Coronary Heart disease, and Stroke, of which the last two are the leading cause of death in the United States.
Another factor that greatly contributes to the poor health of truckers is their Diet, or more accurately, the lack of a nutritious and healthy diet.The food offered at most truck stops is fast, fried food, and heavy on the fatty meats, hence all of the heart problems. You could buy tiny little cups of chopped up fruit and vegetables, but it would cost you. Mostly cantaloupe, watermelon, and grapes, or carrots, tomatoes and broccoli, but those were the only fruits and vegetables seen for miles.
So if you didn’t take the time to hit the grocery store on your one day off, and pack your own food, you were at the mercy of the “Triple F Trifecta”, (Fast / Fried / Food) day after day, week after week, month after month. Nobody is going to win any of those races. Nobody. UGH. It’s no wonder that truckers have so many health issues, with Obesity and Diabetes Mellitus topping the list, of which both can be directly related to, or exacerbated by poor Nutrition.
Most truckers drive during the day, but if you’re unfortunate enough to work night shift, your Circadian Rhythm and Sleep cycles are going to suffer even more dramatically. I was lucky to get 4-5 hours of sleep a day, and if I got 6-7, it was a bloody miracle. I tried all the tricks to sleep better and longer, including prescription medications from the Doctor. All to no avail. The rest of my night shift team mates all had the same problems with sleeping during the day, but we just gutted it out, or took a nap after we’d swapped trailers, and were on our way back to Omaha. In an Abstract done by the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, sixty-one percent of truckers reported having “six or fewer hours of sleep per 24-hr period”. It’s no wonder that driving while distracted or tired is one of the leading causes of crashes for truckers. Sleep Apnea is also a problem with truckers, and many have to wear a CPAP mask.
I’ve known some truckers with Sleep Apnea so bad that they were required to submit their CPAP Machine’s data to the company for review on a monthly basis. If the medical data wasn’t up to snuff, the trucker would be “red-tagged” and not allowed back on the road until further clearance by a Doctor. Regardless of whether they were in their hometown or not. It’s no joke that many truckers lose their CDL, and therefore their livelihood, due to medical health issues and company restrictions.
This is a link to the CDC/NIOSH website if you want further info.
Air pollution from diesel particulates that anyone in proximity to diesel fuel incurs is another negative. Not only do diesel fumes reek, they are carcinogenic. The ex-Nurse part of me was not surprised when I found an article from the US Department of Health and Human Services, that said there was an increased incidence of lung cancer amongst all types of workers exposed to diesel fumes, not just truckers. (Link below)
When there’s a diesel fuel spill, the HazMat Team has to come and clean it up, so it shouldn’t come as a bombshell revelation that diesel fuel, or particulates from it, are not healthy for our bodies or the environment at large. Being at a large truck stop, with over 300 drivers idling their trucks, so that the occupants won’t melt in the summer, or freeze to death in the winter, is one smelly and foul place.
However, sitting in a truck that’s basically nothing but a fancy metal can with glass windows, roasting or freezing to death, is not a very smart thing for any trucker to do either. California has a no idling over 5 minutes policy, with some exceptions, in an attempt to curb air pollution in that state, but it’s one of those highly unrealistic laws that truckers have to obey anyway. (Link below)
The last negative aspect of trucking that I’ll mention is one of Safety, which includes Safety for the drivers, and the other people on the road. The FMCSA also tracks the safety of the equipment, and the cargo in their crash statistics as well. Truckers come in at 8th place for dangerous Occupational fatalities. In order of dangerousness, they were behind fishing, logging, pilots, roofers, trash and recycling collectors, iron and steel workers, and coal mining.
The FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) does a thorough yearly data compiling and statistics analysis for all aspects of safety.
Here’s a summary of the trucking trends for the year 2017.
- In 2017, 4,889 large trucks and buses were involved in fatal crashes, a 9-percent increase from 2016. Although the number of large trucks and buses in fatal crashes has increased by 42 percent from its low of 3,432 in 2009, the 2017 number is still 7 percent lower than the 21st-century peak of 5,231 in 2005.From 2016 to 2017, large truck and bus fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled by all motor vehicles increased by 6.8 percent, from 0.146 to 0.156.
- There was a 34-percent decrease in the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks or buses between 2005 and 2009, followed by an increase of 40 percent between 2009 and 2017. From 2016 to 2017, the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks or buses increased by 8 percent.
- The number of injury crashes involving large trucks or buses decreased steadily from 102,000 in 2002 to 60,000 in 2009 (a decline of 41 percent). From 2009 to 2015, injury crashes increased 62 percent to 97,000(based on GES data). From 2016 to 2017, according to NHTSA’s CRSS data, large truck and bus injury crashes increased 4 percent (from 112,000 in 2016 to 116,000 in 2017).
- Over the past year (from 2016 to 2017):
- The number of large trucks involved in fatal crashes increased 10 percent, from 4,251 to 4,657, and the large truck involvement rate (large trucks involved in fatal crashes per 100 million miles traveled by large trucks) increased 6 percent, from 1.48 to 1.56.
- The number of large trucks involved in injury crashes increased by 5 percent,from 102,000 to 107,000.
- The number of large trucks involved in property damage only crashes increased by 3 percent,from 351,000 to 363,000.
The rest of the details can be found on the 118 page pdf link below. It’s actually pretty fascinating.
Lastly, Semi Trucks and car drivers have a contentious, cantankerous relationship out there on the road at times. I don’t know how many times a car driver has done something stupid, rude, or downright dangerous, myself included before I became a trucker, purely out of ignorance. Now that I’ve been on both sides of the wheel, so to speak, I’ve thought about compiling a list of Safety suggestions for car drivers. When I tell fellow car drivers what it’s like to drive an 18 wheeler, many have told me that they did not understand what Truckers have to deal with. They have no knowledge of the true nature of the situations that Truckers are put in, and are therefore unable to drive safely around trucks. Not all truck drivers are safe drivers, or “nice” people, and you the car driver, will never know what kind of driver that trucker is until something happens. Hence the safety suggestions, of which I’m not exaggerating when I say that they could literally save your life. Also, it’s not just cars and Trucks that have contention with each other. Sometimes other Truckers are unsafe to other Truckers! I’ve had Truckers purposely mess with me, and try to scare me with various unsafe driving moves.
The first time another Trucker pulled in front of me with literally less than 5 feet to spare, I had to “hard brake”, which can lead to a jackknife if you’re not careful. That wasn’t the last time that happened either. I’ve also had guys change lanes in front of me every time I tried to change a lane. They didn’t want me to pass them for whatever reason, so they would speed up and slow down over and over for miles, just to mess with me.
I’m a Trucker, and I don’t trust many other Truckers. Neither should you.
NP: How would you describe the political climate?
Peters: I can’t makea blanket statement about all trucker’s political views, but I can say that the political climate was/is fraught with tension, anger, ignorance, derisive disrespect, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, racism, and cognitive dissonance. It’s not that much different than what anyone sees in the United States, because trucking is an integral part of the country. This is a period of history where we’re going through chaotic changes, and it depends on what side of “acting like a decent human being” you’re on, to determine if you are embracing the changes, or resisting them. I’m not a fan of labels, because most people aren’t even labeling themselves or others factually. With that being said, when I see other people suffering, whether I’m personally suffering or not, my heart goes out to them. I am an ex Nurse after all, with a deep love for all people.
However, when I see other people being purposefully hateful and ignorant, or willfully bigoted and cruel, I get genuinely upset, and have a hard time wrapping my head around such heinous behavior. Like why? What is the purpose of being so hateful, especially when that same person claims to be “Christian”.
One disturbing instance, among many, comes to mind to illustrate my point.
I was in a Facebook group of all women truck drivers, and most of them were from the same company that I worked for. We exchanged tons of helpful tips with each other, and I learned a lot from some of the more experienced drivers. One day one of the Admins of the group posted a video of another trucker, in Mexico, transporting migrant people to the Mexican/ US border on the back of his flatbed. She added some acidic personal commentary about the video that popped my eyeballs out of their sockets. Granted, it wasn’t the smartest thing that trucker could have done, but the guy was in Mexico, and this White woman said that she was going to report him for “transporting illegal aliens”.
How could they be “illegal” when they weren’t even in the US yet? Also, saying that people are “aliens” is dehumanizing, especially when the United States is directly responsible for the destabilization of the governments that they’re fleeing from, but I digress. We’ve all heard xenophobic rhetoric before, but then she went on to say, and I quote, “If it was up to me, I’d line up all those illegals in the migrant caravan and open fire on that mess!”
When I looked at her FB profile, she had a picture of herself, her husband, and their two children. Do her two children deserve to be gunned down and killed by a random stranger? Should her children suffer the same treatment that the migrant children would, if someone like her had a gun in their hands? These innocent men, women and children were born in another country, but they dared to ask for asylum in the US. Does that mean they deserve to be shot and killed by her?
She had “won” the Birth Lottery by being born in the US, but these people fleeing desperate situations had no control over where they’d been born. Does that mean that they deserved to be lined up and shot dead because they weren’t so lucky with their Birth Certificate Lottery? I asked her why she thought it was remotely OK to open fire on anyone, and what gave her the right to shoot and kill innocent people? Her venomous response was filled with massive hatred and loathing for these migrant people based solely on where they’d been born, or not born in this case, even though she’d never met a single one of them before. She also made it totally clear that she felt entitled to shoot and kill men, women and children for crossing a political border line.
A simple line drawn in some dirt that was determined decades ago, that she didn’t even draw, that wasn’t ever her personal property, but she thought was her job to “protect” from “illegal aliens”. There isn’t even such a thing as illegal aliens, unless you’re talking about visitors from outer space, and they’re not illegal either. She refused to see her cognitive dissonance about White supremacy in America.
I also had a White male trucker give me a Nazi salute as I passed him on the Interstate one fine morning. It wasn’t surprising since the US has seen a sharp rise in White Nationalism, which is directly tied to Nazi ideology. Hell, the “Farmbelt Fuhrer” has quietly lived right here in Nebraska, selling his Nazi propaganda for decades. It doesn’t help that there’s always some kind of patriotic merchandise in every single truck stop I’ve ever been in, effectively linking patriotism and Nationalism.
I’ve seen plenty of: “If you don’t love it, leave it” or “You can go back to where you came from if you don’t like it here” sort of messaging in truck stops as well. This links racist xenophobia to Nationalism, because White people aren’t told this sort of message, only Brown and Black people are. I know many people who love this country, who don’t want to leave it, AND who want to make it a better place for everyone, not just the privileged few.
You can love something, and still confront its flaws.
ALL of this can be true at the same time. White people, especially in trucking, think they own this country. However, it is solid fact that any person in the United States that is NOT Native American, Indigenous Alaskan, Native Hawaiian, or Black with ancestors brought here on slave ships is a colonizer occupying stolen land. Therefore, any White person arguing and crying foul about “illegal aliens” is utterly racist, completely incorrect, and shamefully ridiculous.
What’s also shamefully ridiculous in the trucking culture, is the homophobic and transphobic comments that I personally heard from people in trucking, as well as from other Drivers.
Gay and trans drivers themselves would tell me about their experiences, and none of them were positive, accepting and affirming encounters. The amount of mis-gendering, dead naming, and fear mongering about bathrooms, was unbelievably ignorant and therefore, dangerous for gay and trans drivers most of the time. The majority of people at ANY job, just want to be treated equally. and to be respected as human beings. I can not figure out why giving another person respect and treating them equally, is such a problem for people. Especially when we’re all just trying to get through life as best we can.
My exception to treating people with respect and dignity are those people who are invested in another person’s annihilation, like Nazis, or if their views are rooted in the oppression of another. Free speech has serious responsibilities and consequences, and what I hear going on in trucking is tons of racist, xenophobic, homophobic dehumanization.
NP: How does management treat truckers in your estimation?
Peters: Again, I will only speak for myself, and what I personally saw or experienced regarding “Management”. In this Profession, my immediate bosses are called Dispatchers, and I found most of them to be dismissive, sexist, misogynistic, gaslighting, ignorant, uncaring and petty pricks. Not just to me, but to every other driver, at one time or another. Depending on who you were, and what your demographic data was, some drivers were treated worse than other drivers.
I’m not sure that they even knew that they were being inappropriate, unprofessional jerks. Trucking is a blue collar, or no collar job, so the work culture will reflect that. Part of the management equation has to include demographics. This field has been dominated by White males since the beginning of trucking. Men dealing with men is a totally different ball game than men having to deal with women. It became clear that many of the male Dispatchers do not have the mental bandwidth, or emotional intelligence to deal with women.
The differences in the way that the male and female drivers proposed solutions and resolved problems was marked. A lot of Male drivers would swear and yell threatening things at Dispatch, apologize the next day, and then go back to being buddies as if nothing happened. Most of the Female drivers would try to talk things out calmly and logically, only to be diminished, disrespected, dismissed as “too emotional”,, and then gaslit, or completely ignored. If we raised our voices at Dispatch with half the decibel that the guys did, they acted like we were Medusa like evil hags, threatening them with the imaginary snakes they all thought we wore on our heads. The double standard was ludicrous, and infuriating.
We joked on my team, “Handle it like a man! Throw a fit and then quit! They’ll hire you back the next day!” I actually saw that happen twice.
Here’s only one example of how women were treated by dispatch in the division where I worked. Three months into driving solo, I had to call in to Dispatch and say that I wasn’t running that night. My entire route had severe weather, with the forecast and radar showing tornadoes and winds up to 78 mph from 9:00 pm, until 4 am in the morning, with my shift starting at 10:30pm. Every trucker knows that you’re just asking for trouble if you run when the wind is over 35-40 mph, regardless of freight weight. My route was along I-80 in Nebraska, which is a major “wind tunnel”. Meaning, that it’s an area that’s especially dangerous for winds that can, and will blow you over in a nanosecond.
Truckers are constantly told that we are the “Captains of our Ship, and if we don’t feel safe driving for any reason, we should not drive.” We are also held completely responsible if we DO drive, and we shouldn’t have been driving. Another way to read that is, it’s ALWAYS the trucker’s fault if there’s an accident. Always. Anyone driving OTR can just wait out the storms at a truck stop, and then continue on their merry little way after the storms are over, but since I drove a specific shift, I had to call in for the entire shift. My Female coworker also called in, citing the super dangerous driving conditions as well.
Dispatch said OK, and agreed that the weather had been “gnarly” all day.
Before calling in, I had also talked with the Day Driver who drove the same Truck that I did, but during the 12 pm-12 am shift. He said that he had barely gotten home because it was raining so hard that he couldn’t even see the lines on the road, and that was in the daytime! I don’t take the decision to call in lightly because I like to be professional at my job, plus it’s lost wages. However, they seemed ok with, and even agreed with my decision. Until the next night.
We always had to call in to Dispatch every night to see if we had a load, so when I called the next night, the guy in Dispatch tells me that “No, you don’t have a load tonight. You were removed from the schedule because the Day Planner was pissed off that you called in last night. He said that he can’t rely on you, and that he has freight to move, so you’re off the schedule. You can talk to P_______ about it on Monday morning.” Excuse me? I’m supposedly the Captain of my ship, and determine my own safety, but not really? Not only is this a highly illegal, but common practice, it’s punitive and petty. FMCSA (Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration) rules strictly forbid this practice, which is called coercion.
It was also a manipulative, testosterone laden power play by Dispatch. The message was: “We will make your life hell, and we will never give you work, if you don’t do exactly what we say to do. We give zero fux if it puts your life in danger.” The Female coworker who also called in, was removed from the schedule that night as well.
So we both went in the next morning and tried to talk to Dispatch. To make a long discussion short, we got nowhere, nothing was done about it, and we were completely ignored. Even when we threatened to write up a report and submit it to the FMCSA and DOT, they were like, “Go ahead. We’ll just put a bigger target on your back than you already gave yourself for being a woman, and calling in for weather.” The most frustrating thing about it was, every single one of the other 42 male drivers in my division had called in for weather at one point or another, but when a woman does it, ALL HELL breaks loose.
Sorry, not sorry. Just because some company issues me an employee number, doesn’t mean that I should be treated as a blindly obedient, expendable automaton. The fact that anyone in any trucking company, has a blatant disregard for their employee’s safety, and expects them to run freight when their life is in imminent danger is nothing but revolting capitalistic greed. Big, fat, freaking NOPE.
People don’t leave jobs, they leave relationships, and my relationship with most of the Dispatchers was borderline abusive. I had to fight to be treated with respect and dignity every single day. I don’t need to be abused at work, and neither does anyone else. Why do we think that ANY working-class employee has to take abuse at work to prove that they’re “up to the task”, or “deserve to be paid”? There’s a lingo among truckers specific only to them, with terms or phrases for this, or that situation. Most of them are true, and sometimes hilarious. In this instance, I remembered that empty trailers are called “Dispatcher Brains”. It’s common knowledge that most Dispatchers are not truckers. Some have never even been in a truck, and therefore, they have no idea what they’re doing, lack common sense and make brainless decisions.
With that being said, one of the poorest, most nonsensical decisions that most Dispatchers make, is to treat their drivers egregiously. That same Facebook group of all women drivers that I spoke of earlier, had post after post from almost every one of those women about being treated badly, lied to, and even verbally abused by their Dispatcher. Most of them were too scared of losing their jobs to even say anything, so they just passively took the abuse, but actively looked for another job.
Drivers are a companies biggest asset, but most trucking companies treat them like fish chum. They bait drivers with empty promises of “great pay and benefits”, then serve them to the Dispatchers, who gobble up their time and energy like the great white pieces of shark shyte they are. The life force of truckers is used, abused, and sucked dry by people who “have freight to move”, regardless of legitimate safety concerns for the driver. The only thing left of these abused drivers are their sleepless and skeletal, thoroughly exploited remains.
NP: What were some of the additional issues you faced in a male dominated profession?
Peters: Misogyny, power struggles, sexism and tons of Toxic Masculinity. There’s a lot of “Man up” and “Don’t be a pussy” type of sexist language that equates being a “true trucker” with strength or weakness, rather than standardized outcome-based criteria. It’s more about “being tough”, and “You gotta take whatever is dished out to you, and never say “Uncle”, cuz then you’re a “pussy”. Bravado, posturing and arguing were an everyday occurrence, especially on the CB Radio.
There was one guy at the company that I worked for that was always yelling and screaming at some random stranger, and then challenging that person to a fight at some pre-arranged Truck stop. He was always in someone’s face for whatever reason that pissed him off that day. Normally he didn’t even have a good reason to go off on his rage rants, but that never stopped him from spouting off. It reminded me of the scenes in historical movies where one-man challenges another to a duel, and they walk 20 paces and then shoot at each other.
Except this time, they drove hundreds of miles, met at the Truck stop and got into red-faced, chest bumping, testosterone fueled fights. Usually no punches were thrown because nobody wanted to get fired for the ridiculousness that they were fighting about anyway. It was literally like a Cock fight, but in human form.
If I wanted to stay safe and skirt these fights, I’d always have to be on my guard, because these fights could break out at any time. UGH.
There’s also the issue of age. With older male drivers that have been doing this job for decades, there seemed to be a palpable disdain and impatience for the newer, younger drivers. I remember one conversation in particular that I heard on the CB radio. This old timer was ranting on and on about how:
“They don’t even teach these young fuckers anything! None of these Newbie bastards even know how to drive a god damn manual transmission! What the fuck are they even teaching these sorry sons of bitches these days anyway? They’re all fucking idiots and young enough to still be sucking on their Mama’s titties! At least some of us older drivers still know how to drive a manual transmission, but now they’re going to mostly automatic, so none of these companies give a fuck anymore anyway. It doesn’t matter that we hate those god damn automatics, or that they’re fucking dogs and can’t pull shit. I hate those fucking trucks, and I hate these young idiots that want to drive them. It’s their fucking fault companies are going to fucking automatics! Fucking Newbies don’t know jack shit about jack shit!”
So there you have it in a nutshell. This verbal thrashing sums up the impatient derision that most older male drivers have for newer drivers. This is a culture where you have to EARN every bit of respect if you want to “fit in”. Nothing is easy, and nothing is handed to you. You have to fight for acceptance into the “good ole trucker boy club”. As a woman, I’d never be fully accepted into this trucker boy club anyway. Not without having to do twice the bullshit tests that younger men are put through. That’s a hard pass from me.
My trainer washed his hands of this male posturing behavior too. He told me that he never, ever talked to other truckers, or listened to them tell their stories when he had to stop at truck stops, or the Home Terminal. He said, “Every one of those fuckers just wants to hear themselves talk, and all they do is tell lies anyway. Nothing they say is the truth, and they just compete with each other to see who can tell the biggest, and best lie. I HATE talking to other truckers, and I don’t even want to hear them on the CB either.” Alrighty then.
There were always some men, of all ages, at the truck or rest stops who acted alarmingly lecherous and leered at women. Sometimes they were gross enough to make sexist catcalls, whistle, or make lewd remarks about a woman’s body. Many women told me that they hated stopping to fuel because it felt like men were looking at them as if they were fresh meat. I felt the same damn way, and thought it was predatory, and super creepy behavior. We all hated being sexually objectified like that. These men only saw us as someone to have sex with, never as fellow drivers. There were also copious amounts of patronizing older guys that would say “Hello Little Lady!” to me. I found that nauseatingly disrespectful, because Buddy! I’m over fifty-freaking-five years old! Why are you treating me like a child?
My Dad used to call me Little Lady when I was FIVE! Are you a Pedophile, or is your Math just way the hell off? There were some women who loved the sexual attention, and used their “Pretty Power” as a way to leverage any power they could for themselves. As an older female, I didn’t want anything to do with that type of sexualized power dynamic.
I’ve used my Pretty Power plenty of times before, but never in a work environment.I figured out long ago that it’s a slippery slope for a woman, and slides her straight into places that she’d rather not be in the end. NO thanks.
It never took much to give the wrong impression to a man. To make sure that I was clear in my messaging, I would never smile or even nod hello to men, lest they think I was signalling them for sex. Instead, I would look at them straight in the eye until they looked away. I’m not here to be dutiful, subservient, or take crap from anyone. Challenging men with direct eye contact gave them the message that it would behoove them to leave me alone. It was exhausting to have to keep my guard up, and be tough like this all the damn time, but if I wanted to survive in the trucking jungle, that’s what I had to do. There’s no place for softness in trucking.
NP: Would you like to elaborate on your experience?
Peters: That is such a long story to tell, and there were many unusual and out of the ordinary things that happened to me, so I decided to write a book about my experiences in Trucking. It’s called:
There is NO Crying in Trucking!
My Over The Open Road Saga
I titled it thusly, because that phrase “There’s no crying in trucking” was THE most repeated phrase spoken to me throughout my training, and it was ALWAYS said to me by a man. It wasn’t said as a joke either, and come to find out, there’s A LOT of crying in trucking. I want to make it clear that my experiences in the Trucking Industry are mine and mine alone.
I’m not speaking for the Industry, or anyone else in Trucking. This is an important note to make, because during the documented time frame that encompasses this book, it became glaringly apparent that my experiences, and those of the people that I came in contact with, were as varied as the stars in the night sky.
Using this same analogy, I can say that some people “shine brightly” in this field, while others struggle, and only have “twinkling” on and off starts, stops and monetary gains. Others have spectacularly tragic Super-Nova Blowouts, with the literal and/or figurative death of their Trucking star. My point that I can’t stress enough, is that none of us Truckers, ever have the same experiences in this career.
My book is a candid, humorous, chronicled account describing the relevant experiences I had while trucking, which was one hell of a ride! Every single person is affected by trucking more than they realize, so I included documented info with interesting links for further reading.
NP: What is your sense of the future of the trucking industry ?
Peters: The recent Federally mandated laws regarding ELD’s, (Electronic Logging Devices) forever changed the trucking Industry. ELD’s are electronic devices that all CDL drivers are required to use to keep a Record of Duty Status (RODS) to document that they are in strict compliance with HOS (Hours of Service) rules.
You used to be able to fudge your paper Log book in the past, and many a trucker did, but there’s no way to “cheat” with your ELD logs now.
The ELD synchronizes with the truck engine to automatically record every driver and engine performance statistic on the truck. It truly is Big Brother watching you like a hawk, but there’s nothing anyone can do about it now. It’s a done deal, and is officially the Law of the land. I didn’t mind the ELD’s because that’s what I started with off the bat, even though it’s super creepy to be monitored like that.
The biggest problem that trucking faces is turnover and shortage of drivers. There are a lot of reasons for this shortage, and in the link below, they say that money is 95% of the problem. Maybe it is, but sometimes it’s just not worth any amount of money to be used, abused, and treated like your very life is nothing more than an expendable piece of machinery. Putting the treatment of drivers aside for a moment, the stats regarding the driver shortage do not lie.
The driver shortage hit a high of 60,800 drivers in 2018, up from 50,700 in 2017, which was an increase of nearly 20%. The industry could be short just over 100,000 drivers in five years and 160,000 drivers in 2028. It’s obvious that trucking companies need to step up their game if they want to stay in the game.