It was a good thing I had my editor, Lyndon Finney, with me: a cop car was circling the parking lot at a Central Arkansas truck stop on an overcast afternoon last month and I was afraid they were dubious about my intentions.
I was standing by Lyndon on the raised portion of a fuel island with a notebook in my hand, trying to count the number of women in trucks pulling in for the night.
The cops finally circled a couple of times and left, probably wondering what on earth we were doing but sufficiently satisfied we weren’t doing anything criminal.
What we were doing was conducting a very unscientific survey on whether the percentage of women out at the truck stop was in line with recent Department of Labor statistics that found the percentage of women in trucking had declined slightly, going from 5.3 percent in 2007 to 4.9 percent in 2008.
What we found by counting women drivers was that 137 drivers pulled in for the night between 4 and 6 p.m., 12 of them women. A math-savvy colleague tells me that amounts to 8.8 percent women, significantly more than what the Bureau of Labor Statistics found.
BLS figures are from “Household Data,” which in turn we’re told come from Census data.
We hastened to catch up with the females who were in a truck with a man to find out if they were merely riding along or were drivers. All of those were drivers, themselves, driving team with their husbands.
We saw two women driving by themselves: one was a flatbedder and her truck had disappeared into the back parking lot before we could leg it across the asphalt to talk to her and the other, Sherry Handjis, was by herself hauling “whatever” she could for Landstar.
Stopped to fuel, Sherry was nice enough to tell us she hadn’t noticed one way or other whether there were any more or any fewer women out on the road. Presumably she’s been too busy scrambling to make a living.
Another equally unscientific poll of readers to The Trucker Web site at thetrucker.com found drivers divided on whether numbers of women out on the road had dwindled during the past year compared with 2008.
Six said the number of women on the road has actually increased while four said they were seeing fewer lady truckers.
Some respondents just talked about the tough conditions out on the road.
Those who said there were less women noted the way women are treated and the economy as major reasons. There are just fewer trucks on the road, period, one driver noted.
Since there’s less freight and fewer miles, “females as a rule are lower on the seniority list so they get hit even harder on the miles offered,” said another.
Still another replied that “It’s tough to make a living out here and the companies are not rolling out the red carpet for female or male drivers right now.
“Their main priority is surviving, not coddling drivers, especially what some in the industry perceive as high-maintenance drivers.”
There are fewer trucks on the road and the industry just “keeps shedding jobs,” said another.
However, one respondent said there seemed to be an increase of women drivers on the road and that companies are becoming more open minded about hiring women because they’re better drivers than men and take more pride in their work.
It’s been theorized that because of the economy both women and men are unable to job hop like they used to and that when a woman becomes disenchanted with trucking for whatever reason she can’t easily get a job with another carrier so she quits and tries to go into something else.
Others say it doesn’t make sense for a woman trucker quit a job she already has since finding another job would be tough, indeed, given the numbers of people currently out of work.
Neither Lyndon nor I tried to count the number of women in trucks already parked for the night. We didn’t want to risk getting run over and we certainly didn’t want to keep anyone from getting their federally mandated rest.
A trucker’s life is hard enough (male and female) without having reporters knocking on their doors to do a census count of their own.
As we left, the sun had set and there was a stunning view of red and purple clouds massed on the Western horizon above the rows of rumbling trucks.
We hope everyone in the rows and rows and rows of 18-wheelers got a good night’s sleep and were on their way the next day with as little hassle as possible.
Well, we can always hope.
Dorothy Cox of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at email@example.com.