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“We try to make it clear because a lot of drivers misunderstand,” she said. “We’re not trying to make the trucks designed for women; we’re trying to make them adaptable.”
Ryder has embraced the issue. The firm says it has used the research of Kersten and Women in Trucking to identify female-friendly design changes, and is encouraging manufacturers to consider them. Ryder has been looking at such things as adjustable foot pedals, the visibility of dash gauges and the height of seat belts.
Helping propel that initiative is a shortage of truck drivers, estimated by research firm FTR at 215,000 below normal staffing levels. That means there is no one at the wheel of about 2 percent to 3 percent of the country’s semis, and 5 percent or more at some fleets, transportation economist Noel Perry, a senior consultant with FTR, said in an e-mail.
With women accounting for less than 6 percent of drivers, according to Voie, a greater female presence in the big rigs could help.
The industry has been through driver shortages before, but this one may be more systemic, with the available pool shrinking because of stricter standards and more demand because of greater restrictions on driver hours.
Things are so tight, said longtime drivers’ wages analyst Gordon Klemp, that even Wal-Mart, where over-the-road truckers in its private fleet average a gold-plated $76,000 a year, has taken to advertising aggressively for drivers.
Considered by many to be “the Cadillac company to drive for,” Wal-Mart historically has had a long list of applicants to draw from, so the fact that it has to advertise represents a major shift in the industry, Klemp said.
“There are not that many raising their hand saying, ‘Hey, I think it would be cool to be a driver,’ ” said Scott Perry, vice president of supply management for Ryder’s fleet management solutions unit. “So trying to attract more and more to the industry and also developing an industry that’s more inviting to a broader range of individuals is something that we’re very focused on.”