by Sean Killcarr, in Trucks at Work

taw031714aIt’s no secret that women make up a small contingent of the truck driver population in the U.S. – roughly 5.2% according to the most recent Department of Labor statistics that I can find – yet their numbers are expected to grow significantly in the coming decades as the demand for drivers continues to increase.

With that in mind, Ryder System is joining forces with the non-profit group Women In Trucking (WIT) to design what they’re calling more “female-ergonomic” truck cabs so they can operate big rigs more easily.

Using research conducted by WIT in partnership with Jeanette Kersten, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, WI, Ryder is identifying “custom vehicle designs” that better fit the needs of female drivers, with plans to spec such trucks for both its own fleet as well as its leasing operation.

In the spring of 2010, Kersten and her graduate students developed a survey that specifically assessed truck cab design and driver experience for women, highlighting the fact that the average female driver is six inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter than male drivers.

This physical discrepancy can create issues for female drivers operating trucks designed and built for men, Kersten noted in her research, specifically in terms of seats, pedals, and gauges. She said her team’s research found that female drivers typically have problems setting their seats for easy access to the pedals and maximum visibility of the gauges and mirrors.

Female truck drivers are also challenged in regard to cab accessibility, i.e., getting into their trucks, Kersten added, with steps and hand rails placed in locations designed for men, women are commonly forced to enter and exit their vehicles in a manner that makes them more prone to slips, trips, and falls.

“There are close to 200,000 women truck drivers and that number is steadily growing,” noted Ellen Voie, WIT’s CEO, in a statement. “This represents a significant step forward to help the industry attract more female drivers and improve the work environment for the thousands of women who’ve already established careers as professional drivers.”

taw031714b“Today’s trucks are not designed with women in mind,” added Professor Kersten. “Given the driver shortage and the changing demographics that the trucking industry faces, it’s important for manufacturers to make trucks more female-friendly through moderate design changes for seats, pedals and gauges, for example. Not only will this make trucks easier and more comfortable for women to operate, but it will also better ensure greater safety for female drivers.”

To that end, Ryder is reviewing several areas of its truck specifications to make them more “female-friendly,” including:
  • Height and placement of cab steps and grab handles
  • Adjustable foot pedal height (accelerator, brake, clutch)
  • Height of seat belts (shoulder area)
  • Visibility of dash gauges
  • Electric/hydraulic hood lifting mechanism
  • Automated transmission shift lever placement/location
  • Access to the top of the dash
  • Better access to oil and coolant check and fill
“It’s important for manufacturers to take women’s needs into consideration when designing and specifying new vehicles, and we are encouraging all of our major suppliers to do so,” noted Scott Perry, Ryder’s VP of supply management, in a statement.

“In addition, many of the same design changes will also support the needs of men who are smaller in stature, as well as the growing population of aged male drivers,” he said. “With the current industry-wide shortage of professional drivers, this is a strategic initiative that can have far-reaching implications for truck fleets.”

It will be interesting to see where this “female-friendly” spec’ing endeavor spreads to next in the trucking business and how fleets might use it as a recruiting tool. Stay tuned.

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