Faced with a driver shortage, the trucking industry is hearing the voices of female drivers and others of small stature who want to make it easier to handle big trucks on the road.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently profiled 5-foot-2-inch driver Lindy Hartsfield-Vasquez, who says the struggle between short people and 18-wheelers is real.
“When I get the seat low enough to hit the pedals, I have trouble seeing over the dash,” she told the newspaper.
Other challenges include the effort to turn the crank for the trailer’s landing legs and reaching the 18-inch high step to get in and out of the cab.
The advocacy group Women In Trucking, which works to encourage employment of women in the industry, teamed up with University of Wisconsin-Stout operations and management professor Jeanette Kersten to survey the group’s members about their concerns on truck design.
Kersten said the members asked for better seat adjustability, and adjustable foot pedals and steering wheels. Another concern is the position of seat belts, which can become uncomfortable or chafe smaller-statured drivers.
Meeting the needs of smaller drivers can be a business process improvement for trucking companies
Ryder System Inc., which leases trucks and also carries freight, caught wind of the research and is now encouraging truck manufacturers to adopt female-friendly and height-friendly truck modifications.
Truckload carrier Schneider is another company highlighted by the Journal Sentinel that is working to meet the needs of smaller drivers. Schneider has retrofitted its trailers with ratchet handles that make it easier to raise and lower the trailer legs, and has been adding trucks with “automated manual transmissions” to its fleet. The systems eliminate much of the manual shifts required for driving a big truck.
Also, truck manufacturer Freightliner is offering telescoping steering wheels, adjustable seats and a hydraulic-assist clutch in its Cascadia line of trucks.