Stress Factors Experienced by Female Commercial
Drivers in the Transportation Industry
Tracey M. Bernard,
Linda H. Bouck, Wendy S. Young
American Society of Safety Engineers
Motor fleet organizations
and commercial transportation facilities rely on motor vehicle drivers
to transport freight while providing on time deliveries, undamaged product
and customer satisfaction. If the driver is dissatisfied with his/her
job, a companys reputation, customer satisfaction and freight transportation
orders may decline; on a larger scale, this may impact the competitive
advantage of the motor fleet operation. This advantage can greatly influence
the economics of a commercial transportation firm.
Kamp suggests that if an employee is found to experience an inordinate
amount of stress (e.g., impossible deadlines, disagreements with supervisors,
pressure to outperform), the stress factor will ultimately affect the
organizations economics (e.g., increased workers compensation
claims, absenteeism, poor customer service, decreased driver retention
rates) (32-36). The International Labor Organization, as stated in the
New York Times, suggests that job stress expenditures cost employers more
than $200 billion a year (www.psycport.comnews/1999/09/01/medic/7299-0687-pat_nytimes.html).
Therefore, it is essential to analyze stress experienced by the driver
because s/he plays a key role in long term economics of the organization.
Further, the drivers job distress and well-being must be examined
carefully in order to retain healthy drivers, and reduce occupational
injuries and illnesses, job dissatisfaction and job burnout.
Excessive stress in the workplace can have undesirable consequences on
mental and physical health. Ten years ago, the National Institute for
Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) identified M M psychological disorders
in the workplace as one of the 10 leading work-related diseases and injuries
in the U.S. Through the National Occupational Research Agenda, NIOSH has
continued to stress the importance of finding effective interventions
to reduce stress in the workplace (www.cdc.gov/niosh/nornew1c.html).
According to 1998
occupational injury and illness data compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics
(BLS), truck drivers, as compared to other occupations, experienced the
largest number of injuries and illnesses with time away from work over
the latest five years for which data is available (1992-1996). During
this time, the number of injuries and illnesses declined for all occupations
by about 20 percent, but the number increased by nearly five percent (up
to 151,300) for truck drivers, with women accounting for 17.6 percent.
According to the American Trucking Associations (ATA) approximately five
percent of truck drivers are female (http://www.truckline.com/infocenter/infopacks/women.html)
Psychological stress contributes to injury and illness statistics of both
genders. Stress factors involved with truck driving include irregular
hours, long hours on the road, dangerous actions by other drivers and
insufficient exercise (MacLennan 79-95). Management/supervisory/ dispatcher
concern for the drivers is another factor. Truck drivers are particularly
vulnerable to psychological disorders since they experience higher levels
of stress than those employed in other occupations; truck drivers are
in the 91st percentile based on the Global Stress Index portion of the
Symptom Checklist SCL-90 (Orris, et al 208).
Pressure to meet delivery deadlines is also taxing. As a result, many
drivers travel on little sleep. A New England Journal of Medicine study
found that truck drivers generally did not attain enough sleep to remain
alert while driving (Milter, et al 755-761). This study also found that
truck drivers typically sleep 4.78 hours per day—two hours less than what
drivers in the study determined to be sufficient for job alertness (Milter,
et al 755-761).
Citing data from the 1995 Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries
and Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses, BLS reports
that, based on fatality rates, the long-haul truck driving occupation
ranked ninth on the list of Americas most-dangerous occupations.
When compared to the general working population, the fatality rate for
occupational injuries is five times higher (Toscano 57).
Stress factors also include gender-related issues such as discrimination,
limited job opportunities, and balancing multiple demands of work and
home. In addition, female drivers may have fewer resources to deal with
the problems. Female truck drivers interact most frequently with
male drivers, dockhands [and] truckstop personnel and any
discrimination or sexual harassment faced by women typically arises out
of these interactional and institutional contexts (Lembright and
Riemer 464). Kissman found that in some male-dominated professions, males
sexually harassed and patronized female coworkers as a means of maintaining
social norm acceptance with other males in their job culture (139-149).
Evidence also suggests that low self-esteem, poor peer relationships,
lack of social support from coworkers and/or supervisors are common sources
of occupational stress (Horowitz, et al 29-35). For example, females employed
in male-dominated professions often perceive themselves as outsiders.
This perception is compounded by the perception that females in nontraditional
occupations are hired as a result of Equal Opportunity Employment requirements,
not because of their abilities.
To compensate for
lack of acceptance and to prove their proficiency, females commonly work
harder (Goldenhar and Sweeney 91-100). Since women who drive without a
male partner are more vulnerable to sexual harassment and discrimination,
having a male partner may guard against such harassment and provide a
source of social support (Lembright and Riemer 457-74). Furthermore, a
commercial driver job-satisfaction study conducted by Griffin, et al reported
that loneliness/away from home too much was a leading reason
that drivers were [so dissatisfied with their jobs] that they left the
commercial transportation industry (Hill, et al 2).
Professional drivers must also deal with other drivers who may engage
in unsafe, aggressive driving behavior (e.g., tailgating, speeding, improper
signaling and lane use) on interstates, in congested metropolitan areas,
through road construction areas/detours and in all types of weather conditions.
According to James, such behavior is no longer the extreme, but rather
the norm in everyday driving experiences (http://www.drdriving.org).
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a nationwide
study to determine driver attitudes and unsafe driving behaviors in 1997;
the findings revealed that 62 percent of respondents indicated that the
behavior of another driver had been a threat in the last year (NHTSA 2).
Further, Nerenberg considers road rage a psychological problem termed
road rage disorder and treats it as a psychological disorder
when meeting with his clients (www.roadragenerenberg.com). Other stressors
considered in this study were adverse weather conditions, handling of
large commercial vehicles, physiological factors and other concerns likely
to be encountered by over-the-road female drivers.
directed interviews with a sample of former drivers were performed at
a local commercial transportation facility in order to obtain background
information unique to the industry. Based on these sessions and a literature
review, a sample questionnaire was developed; it addressed stress factorsboth
physical and psychologicalto which drivers are exposed. After pilot
testing, questionnaires were mailed to the female drivers' personal addresses
in the organization's envelopes, along with an explanatory cover letter
and postage-paid envelope. The questionnaire requested demographic information,
such as class of license, education, age, driving experience and background
information (e.g., health problems), before asking about job related stressors.
Driving With a Teammate or Solo
questionnaire comprised primarily multiple choice and Likert scale responses,
with a few free-response questions. This generated two types of feedback:
free responses to open-ended questions/comment areas and numerical responses
on binary and Likert scales. Free responses were reviewed and tallied;
numerical responses were coded and recorded in a database, then analyzed
using the SAS statistical software package (SAS).
Frequency of responses to demographic questions and questions regarding
hazard exposure and training were computed. On Likert scale responses,
mean response and standard deviation were computed. A t-test was used
to determine whether the overall response to each question was significantly
positive (on the agree to strongly agree side
of the Likert scale) or significantly negative (on the disagree
to strongly disagree side of the scale).
questionnaire was distributed in spring 1999 to 77 female long-haul drivers
who worked for a local commercial transportation firm in Western Kentucky.
Twenty-seven drivers returned completed surveysa 35-percent response
majority of drivers (77 percent) were in their 30s and 40s. Some 18.5
percent had children under the age of 17 living at home for whom they
are responsible, while 77.8 percent had no children living at home; the
remaining 3.7 percent did not respond. Most (77 percent) indicated they
had graduated from high school and/or had some form of post-secondary
Driving Experience, Driving Characteristics & Physical Hazard Exposure
percent indicated that they had attended and graduated from a special
driving school program and all held a Class A commercial drivers
license (CDL) with a hazardous materials endorsement. Most (85 percent)
had 10 or fewer years commercial driving experience, with the largest
group (30 percent) having only one to two years experience. When
asked how many days in a typical month they spend on the road and away
from home, all reported that they are away from home for more than 15
days each month; 92 percent spend 21 or more days away each month.
Sixty-six percent indicated that they drive with a male teammate, while
30 percent drive solo (Figure 1). For four percent, the pattern varies;
at times, they drive alone, at times with a male. Data show that participants
have not teamed up with other female drivers.
Drivers were also asked (using a scale from 1 indicating never
to 5 indicating always) to indicate how often they are exposed
to physical hazards. As Table 1 shows, drivers are frequently exposed
to noise, vibration, diesel fuel exhaust and temperature (hot or cold)
extremes, yet rarely exposed to hazardous chemicals.
To assess safety climate, participants were asked to identify their level
of agreement with the statement, Employers, supervisors and managers
work together to ensure the safest possible working conditions.
They were also asked about managements priority in protecting drivers,
vehicle/product and the driving public by identifying their level of agreement
with the statement, Protection of drivers (or vehicle/product or
driving public) is a high priority with your management.
Figure 2 presents responses to these questions in the form of level of
agreement. Overall, drivers perceived their companys safety climate
in a positive light. They agreed that all levelsfrom employers to
managementwork together to ensure safe working conditions (mean=67,
p<0.05). They also agreed that management places a high priority on
driver protection (mean=3.52, p<0.05), the vehicle/ product (mean=4.44,
p<0.001) and the public (mean=3.89, p<0.001), and that management expects
all of the company's drivers to follow good safety practices (mean=4.11,
p<0.001). Participants also agreed that the Qualcomm computer provided
by their employer makes communication more efficient and safer (mean=4.44,
p<0.001). Regarding personal safety, they found truckstop parking lots
stressful (mean=3.48, p<0.05).
Control & Job Demands
issue of control over their jobs, respondents liked the fact that they
set their own daily schedule and pace (mean=3.59, p<0.05); however,
participants noted that they have no control over delivery assignments
(mean=2.41, p<0.05). This conflictcontrol over some aspects of
the job, little control over othersmay have resulted in the neutral
response (mean=3.18, p>0.05); that is, drivers neither agreed nor disagreed
that they have control over their work.
When asked about job demands (Table 2), drivers report that their greatest
concern is delivering their load on schedule (mean=4.15, p<0.001).
They often feel pressed for time (mean=3.96, p<0.001) and drive between
midnight and 4 a.m. (mean=3.89, p<0.01). When asked about stress related
to specific job demands, participants reported that driving in bad weather
to make a delivery (mean=4.37, p<0.001) and dealing with aggressive
drivers (mean=3.67, p<0.01) are stressful, while not getting sufficient
undisturbed rest (mean=3.44, p>0.05), driving at night (mean=2.78,
p>0.05) and backing their trailer up to a loading dock (mean=2.85,
p>0.05) only contribute some stress.
Support & Discrimination Issues
Respondents were neutral/undecided with regard to whether their employer
takes steps to make jobs easier (mean=3.15, p>0.05). When needing help
to handle family-related problems while on the road, only 11.1 percent
relied on driver services or the fleet manager; 3.7 percent have used
the national hotline. Otherwise, participants rely on family members (81.5
percent) and friends (7.4 percent). Drivers were neutral/undecided with
regard to stress experienced due to being away from their family and friends
for long durations (mean=3.41, p>0.05).
Reported Frequency of Exposure to Physical Hazards
a typical month, how often are you exposed to noise?
a typical month, how often are you exposed to vibration?
a typical month, how often are you exposed to hazardous chemicals?
a typical month, how often are you exposed to diesel fuel exhaust?
a typical month, how often are you exposed to temperature (hot or
Safety Climate as Perceived by Drivers
comparing themselves to male drivers, participants were neutral/undecided
as to whether they had to work harder to prove themselves on the job (mean=3.07,
p>0.05) and whether they were treated differently (mean=3.37, p>0.05).
On the positive side, participants indicated that they believe they can
seek help from other drivers if they experience trailer problems while
on the road (mean=3.52, p<0.05). Those surveyed also perceived that they
received pay equal to male drivers with similar qualifications and experience
Health Problems & Stress Symptoms
were asked to identify physical health problems they had experienced as
a long-haul driver from a list of potential problems. Approximately 18.5
percent of those surveyed experienced no serious physical problems. As
Figure 3 shows, the remainder reported various health problems, including
muscle strains in the legs, arms and back, and stomach, bladder and hearing
loss problems. The other problems category included digestion
problems, menstruation concerns, muscle spasms, kidney stones and vision
psychological stress, drivers were asked how often they experience the
following symptoms in a typical month: feeling tense or frustrated; difficulty
sleeping; overwhelming fatigue; and headaches. As Figure 4 shows, on average,
participants experience these symptoms sometimes. Only the feeling of
tenseness/frustration was reported significantly often (mean=3.33, p<0.05).
Employee Training Issues
were asked to respond to three training issues. They felt they had been
sufficiently trained to use all required equipment (mean=4.11, p<0.001)
and that hours of service regulations were not confusing (mean=1.96, p<0.001).
Participants were also asked to indicate what topics they would like to
see addressed in employee training. A list of eight potential topics was
provided, as was an open comment area for driver-suggested topics. As
shown in Table 3, topics requested by more than half of the respondents
(in order of preference) are: stress-reduction techniques, physical exercise
techniques, fatigue-prevention techniques and self-defense techniques.
Perceived Job Demands
greatest concern is delivering the product on schedule.
often feel time pressure on the job.
I am driving between 12-midnight to 4:00 a.m.
the job, how stressful is not getting enough undisturbed rest?
stressful is night driving?
stressful is driving in bad weather?
stressful is dealing with aggressive drivers?
stressful is backing up to a loading dock?
Percent Experiencing Physical Health Problems
Frequency of Reported Psychological & Physiological Problems
were undecided/neutral both in overall job satisfaction (mean=3.41, p>0.05)
and their intention to continue driving in the long-term (mean=2.92, p>0.05).
As indicated by the lack of statistical significance, participants were
also ambivalent (neither agreeing nor disagreeing) whether they would
encourage a female relative or friend to drive professionally (mean=2.85,
p>0.05), although the trend indicated they would not encourage other
females to drive.
participants were asked what might encourage more women to enter and remain
in the professional driving occupation; a list of options was provided
as was a comment area for suggestions. Table 4 lists, by frequency, the
percentage of drivers who indicated that they thought the listed methods
would be effective in encouraging more women to enter the occupation.
Overall, 22.2 percent would not encourage women to become professional
drivers. According to respondents, the most-effective recruiting
techniques are to improve the image of the occupation (77.8 percent) and
improve safety at rest areas and truck stops (59.3 percent).
to the Lembright and Riemer data, more women appear to be driving solo
today. In the current sample, 66 percent of females drive with a male
co-driver, none with a female CO-driver, and 30 percent drive solo (the
remaining four percent drive both solo and with a male). In 1982, Lembright
and Riemer found that 80 percent of female drivers drove with a teammate,
96 percent with males and 1 percent with females, while 20 percent drove
solo (461). The 10-percent increase in solo driving may indicate that
more women are taking on the challenge today; however, the perception
that women cannot drive persists.
Most participants in this study indicated that they spend 21 to 25 days
away from home each month, which is comparable to Persers finding
that the average time between visits home is three to four weeks (32).
This is significant, since Schulz reported that loneliness and time away
from home were commonly cited reasons for drivers leaving their jobs (25-26).
Within the company studied, it appears a concerted effort is being made
to provide a safe work climate. For the most part, participants agreed
that employers, supervisors and managers team to ensure the safest possible
work conditions and that new hires are expected to comply with safe practices
from the start of employment.
Participants also agreed that protecting drivers, vehicle/product and
the public is a management priority. However, the responses indicate that
drivers believe management places a higher priority on vehicle/product,
followed by the driving public, then drivers. This is significant since
Schulz also reported that drivers felt management was not interested in
them as human beings, only as part of the bottom line (25-26).
responses show that the safety climate within managements control
has been effective; however, personal safety issues outside of managements
control fared less well. Overall, participants reported that truck stops
and rest areas were unsafe and caused them stress. One driver indicated
that there was a need for more lights and 24-hour attendants at
rest areas. Another indicated that she feels safe at truck stops
when with her husband, but would be very afraid to stop alone.
With regard to assistance handling family problems, 81.5 percent indicated
they relied on family members. Although the company provides a national
hotline for emergency situations, only 3.7 percent have used it, a finding
which suggests that participants prefer to deal with their problems themselves
rather than rely on company-sponsored support.
In general, on the issue of job control, drivers indicated that they do
not have control over delivery assignments, but are able to set their
own daily schedule and pace. However, drivers report that they are concerned
with deliveries and often feel pressured to accomplish deliveries on schedule;
consequently, many drive between midnight and 4 a.m. This finding confirms
what Milter, et al reported with regard to pressure to meet delivery deadlines
and the fact that these deadlines often result in truck drivers attaining
little sleep (755-61).
According to respondents, the most stressful job demand was driving in
poor weather conditions. Aggressive drivers are another stress factor
cited, reconfirming James finding that aggressive driving is becoming
more common (http://www.drdriving.org/).
Although accidents that occur while backing up to a loading dock are a
frequent, costly occurrence for the driving organization, drivers did
not perceive this area as a significantly stressful concern. Although
respondents appeared to be satisfied with training on vehicles/equipment
and hours of service regulations, they indicated that training in stress
reduction, physical exercise, fatigue prevention and self-defense techniques
would be useful. These recommendations were reinforced by driver comments
about the need for physical exercise during a trip and the need for self-defense
techniques due to unsafe rest areas.
Responses to questions about discrimination (e.g., feeling a need to work
harder to prove themselves; being treated differently than males; feeling
they can ask other drivers for help; believing they are given pay equal
to males) indicate that participants do not feel females are being discriminated
against. In fact, one respondent said driving "is the only job [which]
she has had that pays men and women the same wage."
Recommended Training Topics
WHO WOULD LIKE TO RECEIVE TRAINING
with aggressive drivers
issues on the road
hours of service
Ways to Attract More Females
ATTRACT MORE WOMEN TO DRIVE PROFESSIONALLY
THOUGHT THE TECHNIQUE WOULD ATTRACT MORE WOMEN
of the occupation
|Would not recommend
of service system
on average, responses indicated that little discrimination is present
(although several drivers reported that they had experienced some discrimination
and harassment). In reviewing respondent statements, it appears management
strives to treat men and women equally. Discrimination and harassment
were instead societal/cultural issuesin other words, desk clerks,
waitresses and attendants at truck stops treated female drivers differently.
Each stressor discussed has been linked to and/or shown to impact workers
psychological and physical health, as well as their level of job satisfaction.
Drivers indicated that in a typical month they suffer from various physical
problemsthe most-common being leg, arm and back strains, as well
as stomach problems. In a typical month, drivers also experienced symptoms
of stress: feeling tense, frustrated and fatigued; having sleeping problems;
and suffering headaches.
Overall, respondents were somewhat satisfied with their jobs, but generally
indicated that they would not continue driving until their retirement
and would not encourage other females to drive. About 25.9 percent strongly
agreed and 33.3 percent agreed that they were satisfied with their job.
While the drivers in this study receive equal pay and feel somewhat satisfied,
they had not yet decided to make a concerted effort to encourage other
women to enter the occupation.
on data analysis, the following conclusions were drawn:
1) Previous researchers had indicated that time away from home and separation
from family and friends were significant stressors to long-haul truck
drivers. This study found that these factors were not significantly stressful
to the sampled drivers. This lack of significance may be linked to the
fact that most participants drove with a male teammateoften their
spouse or significant other.
In addition, the sample population was older, with most respondents in
their 40s and having no children under the age of 17 living at home. As
a result, the female driver and her companion often comprised the nucleus
of their current family; thus, there was little to be separated from at
2) Current theory suggests that aggressive driving is a stressful factor
in over-the-road driving. Survey data support this fact; however, this
issue was not perceived to be a high-priority training topic. It is known
that aggressive driving is included in the facilitys
new-hire training curriculum; therefore, the material may not have been
a high priority because it was previously addressed.
topics identified as high priority were: stress-reduction techniques,
physical exercise techniques, self-defense techniques and driver fatigue
prevention. Stress reduction and physical exercise techniques may help
address physical health problems that drivers reported experiencing on
a regular basis. As a followup, the researchers will provide the facility
with materials and resources for potential use in the training curriculum,
along with a list of relevant websites for drivers to access on the road
or from remote locations.
4) With regard to a safe work climate, respondents agreed that management
was striving to ensure the safest possible work conditions through organizational
procedures and effective training. However, although management was controlling
working conditions within the organization, several external factors beyond
managements control were cited as stressful; these included unclean
facilities, poor service at restaurants and fear of poorly lit parking
lots and rest areas.
5) In the category of job demands, driving in bad weather was identified
as the most significant stressor. The second-highest perceived job demand
was the need to make deliveries on schedule. To meet this need, respondents
drove regardless of adverse weather conditions and often between midnight
and 4 a.m., a time that NHTSA has identified as a period with increased
risk for alcohol- and fatigue-related accidents (www.nhtsa.dot.gov/people/perform/human/drowsy2/drdrvrep.htm).
While fatigue was considered a condition of work rather than a stress
factor, drivers indicated a desire for training in methods to minimize
6) Finally, while respondents indicated they were somewhat satisfied with
their jobs, they were somewhat negative with regard to recommending the
profession to other females. Study respondents also suggested that a)
improving the image of the driving profession and b) increased
safety at truck stops and rest areas were the best means to attract more
females to the profession.
primary limitations of this preliminary study must be noted. 1) Only employees
of one medium-size Midwestern commercial transportation facility were
surveyed; as a result, the results cannot be generalized on a national
basis. 2) Researchers were allowed only one mailing opportunity to survey
participants; this had the potential to considerably impact the response
rate and results. Based on this preliminary study, a larger-scale study
involving a national survey of commercial transportation companies is
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* eLCOSH editors' note:
This link was not working as of July 2001.
authors wish to thank the American Society of Safety Engineers Foundation
for providing the grant that supported this research. We also wish to
thank the commercial transportation facility for granting permission to
perform this study at their facility.
M. Bernard, Ph.D., P.E., is an assistant professor in the Dept. of
Occupational Safety and Health at Murray State University (MSU), Murray,
KY. She teaches human factors, ergonomics and biomechanics courses at
MSU. Bernard holds a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering from Texas Tech University,
and an M.S. and B.S. in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research
from Pennsylvania State University. She is a professional member of ASSEs
Purchase Area Chapter.
Linda H. Bouck, Ed.D., is an assistant professor in MSUs
Dept. of Occupational Safety and Health, where she teaches undergraduate/graduate
courses, including a motor fleet safety course in the graduate-level program.
She holds an MS in Safety/Loss Control from University of Wisconsin-Stout
and an Ed.D. in Industrial Education with a safety education emphasis
from Texas A&M University. Bouck is an associate member of ASSEs
Louisville Chapter and was faculty advisor for ASSEs MSU Student
Section from 1995 to 1998.
Wendy S. Young, MS, a recent graduate of MSU, currently works for
PPG Industries. She holds a BS in Psychology and an MS in Occupational
Safety and Health. While attending MSU, Young was an active member of
ASSEs student section at the university.
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