There is a memory that still exists in my mind 35 years after it happened. I was walking into a large Men’s Room near the loading docks. My truck was backed in. The dock plate was in place. Everything was set so that the receiver could unload the trailer. As I walked in, I heard a voice behind me say, “Where the hell do you think you’re going?” It was perplexing. I thought my intentions were pretty obvious. “I am going to the Men’s room.”
— “Truckers are not allowed to use that bathroom.” He pointed me to a single stall, uncleaned, poorly lit, and stocked “truckers” bathroom.
It was humiliating, but it could have been worse. Too many times, I have been told to just go behind a tree. Maybe, it was just “Hold it.”. I have been pointed to a port-o-potty in sub-zero temperatures when there are perfectly good indoor facilities in sight.
On December 15th, Representative Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) and Representative Troy E. Nehls (R-TX) introduced the bipartisan Trucker Bathroom Access Act. It just seems like basic human decency to me. Why did I have to wait 35 years for something like this? This industry has been trying for years to attract female drivers. To quote from the press release. “Addressing a growing concern among truckers and female drivers, this bill will expand access to bathroom facilities. Although the legislation would not require businesses to build new restrooms, it would require businesses with a bathroom available to their customers or employees to extend that same access to truckers.”
This is a pragmatic solution to a problem that never should have existed. Truckers are limited in so many things because of the size and weight of our vehicles. We cannot just drive down the road and park at the local gas station. We probably don’t fit. In addition, we are subject to Hours of Service Regulations. Moving our trucks will kick us out of on-duty or off-duty and into drive mode. That could interrupt our break and force us to restart that break.
We have struggled to attract and retain women in our profession. The percentage of women drivers has stubbornly remained in the 7-8 range. The average length of haul has decreased. The number of sleeperless tractors has increased, as has the percentage of jobs that are home daily. These are things that should help us retain more drivers. Hopefully, it helps us keep more women in the driver’s seat. Unfortunately, the lack of bathroom access sets us back.
The “just don’t go there” argument does not work. We have around 3.5 million active CDLA (semi) drivers. The vast majority of trucking companies have less than 20 trucks. Information about “bad” companies simply can not travel fast enough. These shippers and receivers basically have an endless supply of new drivers.
Over the years, I have heard all of the excuses. Mostly, it is that truckers don’t respect the facilities, and it costs money to maintain facilities. The vast majority of truckers that I know are professionals. Occasionally, some idiot driver might write on a bathroom wall. They can wreck it for the rest of us. I get that. Imagine if someone denied access to all people of color because one person of color vandalized a facility. We would not stand for it. It should be the same for us.
Not letting professional drivers use existing facilities is not necessarily a corporate policy. Ground-level employees love to exert their power over professional drivers. Dock personnel will use their power to humiliate or favor whomever they choose. It can be for the color of their skin, their gender, or for wearing the wrong sports team on their T-shirt. What better way to exert their power to humiliate is there than to deny the use of facilities to a person who needs it? This bill would lessen that power.
I remember an incident from the time before cell phones. It was late on a Friday afternoon in Hoffman Estates, IL. It was a large office complex. A trailer loaded with scrap paper was at a dock inside the building. Space was limited, and it was not easy to maneuver a trailer. It was what is known as a double drop and hook. The idea is to bring the customer an empty trailer and place it in the same dock as the loaded trailer. To do this, I had to drop my empty trailer outside the building. Then pull the loaded trailer out of the building. Drop that one. Hook up to the empty. Put that in the dock and drop it there. Then hook back up to the loaded trailer and leave.
Normally this process takes about 20-30 minutes. This day it was taking longer. There just was not much space to maneuver. As I was dropping the empty in the dock, the gate closed, trapping me inside the building on a Friday afternoon. There was no one around, but there was an intercom system. I used that; I could hear my voice over a loudspeaker asking someone to please open the gate. No luck. My voice went over the speaker system, but no one answered. The next step was to use the payphone on the wall and call my company to explain my problem. My company was going to try to get hold of someone to open the gate. They told me to sit tight. I did for about 45 minutes before nature started calling.
There was a hallway leading from the dock into the offices. I decided to go in search of a men’s room. As I reached the offices, I heard a voice over the loudspeaker system. It asked, “Where you going, driver?”. I explained the situation to the voice above. The voice told me that he had been watching me and that I had taken too long to change the trailers. It appeared that closing the gate and denying me the use of a bathroom was either some punishment or just his sadistic pleasure. At that point, the voice from above decided that he had punished me enough and opened the gate.
One of the drivers I trained called me after a week on the road to tell me that he was leaving the industry. He was at a customer for over 5 hours. That customer would not let him use the existing facilities. That was humiliating to him, and he left the industry. I tried to talk him out of it. That was hard because I completely understood where he was coming from.
At this point, we have all heard that there is a shortage of professional drivers. They try to tell us that we don’t attract enough young people to the profession. That’s bull. The basic numbers are that we need about 3,000,000 CDLA (semi-drivers) on the job. We attract about 500,000 per year. We don’t keep them. One of the reasons that we don’t keep them is because of the way we are treated. This law won’t fix everything. It is a good start.
Jeff is a 34-year veteran truck driver. He earned a BA in Business Administration from Governors State University. During the day, Jeff loaded trucks, and at night he went to class. The overall health of professional truckers is one of Jeff’s major concerns. Jeff became a runner and has finished 11 full marathons.
After being featured in Runners World magazine in 2009, Jeff started a Facebook group to encourage other truckers to exercise. Truckin’ Runners currently has over 1,000 members. Jeff wrote columns for Drivers Health and Truckers News magazines between 2009-2012. After that, he was one of 6 owner operators chosen to represent Freightliner in their Team Run Smart program. He has left the program, but still remains an active advocate for truckers