HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - They're the lifeline for the country. More than 3.35 million truck drivers in the United States are working through the recent COVID-19 surge to bring you the products you need.
Varney Kanneh said he's been a truck driver for four years. He told News 3 the weather this time of year can be very tough to navigate through, along with dealing with a nationwide COVID-19 surge.
Kanneh started his journey in Arizona and said he's headed to Las Vegas next.
“You've got to stop. You've got to sleep; you've got to take your time to make it safe,” Kanneh said.
Making it safe on the road may include new rules. Starting January 15, any truck driver entering Canada must be fully vaccinated.
C. Matt Isaac is currently a Tidewater Community College driving instructor who has 46 years of experience.
“There is a lot of cross-border traffic, so that’s going to affect some supply chain," Isaac said.
The American Trucking Association said they’re leading a coalition of business groups to challenge the White House’s COVID "vaccine or test" requirement for large employers. ATA said they formally requested truck drivers be exempted, and they said U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh has indicated the mandate will not apply to most truck drivers.
News 3 spoke to Ellen Voie, who is the founder of Women in Trucking. She said, “It’s at the Supreme Court right now. It's kind of interesting. We're all holding our breath to see what happens.”
She said many truck drivers “don't want someone looking over their shoulder. They don't want Big Brother, they don't want government, and so this really causes a great deal of concern.”
Voie said drivers spent a lot of time in their trucks and are not mingling with people or the general public. She also said she believes they should have the right to choose whether they get vaccinated or not.
“A lot of them are fully vaccinated, but the ones who don't want to be shouldn't have to lose their job over it. Our stance is we’re not against vaccines, we’re against mandates,” Voie said.
But others, like the Canadian government, disagree and believe everyone should be vaccinated.
“I would encourage every truck driver out there to be vaccinated and keep yourself safe,” Kanneh said.
The White House reports that 72% of goods in America are shipped by truck. Experts say there’s already a shortage of drivers and COVID has caused a strain on the overall industry.
“It's worse than it's ever been only because the need seems to be increased,” Voie said.
Voie and Isaac agree that the pandemic has made people realize how important truck drivers are. Tidewater Community College says its driving program is very popular, and Voie told News 3 that the pandemic has caused more people to sign up to learn how to become a truck driver.
“If you are a trained truck driver, you won’t have a problem finding a job,” Isaac said.
Some drivers spend a lot of time away from family while braving the bad weather on the roads to make sure you get the products you need.
“This is your life. Your family depends on you to be back alive,” Kanneh said.
There are more than 3 million drivers, but the trucking industry actually employs 7.65 million people, so these issues greatly impact many people.
Below are questions answered by an ATA spokesman:
How much of an impact does the trucking industry have on the lives of Americans?
An immense impact. Trucks deliver 72.5% domestic freight tonnage – and really, 100% of all consumer goods. Literally, if you got it, at some point, it was in a truck.
What is it currently like for truck drivers on the road?
Drivers are, as they have been since the beginning of the pandemic, continuing to move America’s most critical goods – food, medicine, PPE, vaccines, gasoline – all of it is delivered by trucks. We’re seeing an uptick in traffic lately, so we encourage motorists to be patient and give truckers some space – don’t speed or drive aggressively around large trucks so they can continue to deliver our goods safely and efficiently.
How do the new rules from Canada impact truck drivers?
We are very concerned about the impact these vaccine mandates will have on the supply chain. Eighty percent of communities rely solely on trucks to deliver their goods, and our industry is already facing a shortage, so if even a small number of drivers leave their company or the industry altogether because of a requirement to be vaccinated there is potential for significant disruptions.
How do you feel about a possible vaccine mandate?
As I said above, a vaccine-or-test mandate has the potential to be extremely disruptive to our industry and to the overall economy. That is why we have challenged the emergency rule in court and are hoping for a swift ruling from Supreme Court.
What is the current state of the driver shortage?
We estimate that there is currently a shortage of roughly 80,000 drivers in the trucking industry, which while it impacts certain segments of the industry more than others, is having an effect on not just trucking, but the entire supply chain.
What do you want the public to understand about the job of truck drivers in the country?
Driving a truck can be a challenging, but rewarding and essential job. Americans rely on trucks to deliver their food, clothing, medicine and more – it is an important job that we need more Americans to pursue. Because of the shortage, becoming a truck driver is an increasingly lucrative career for many. Companies are actively recruiting new drivers with a number of incentives, including raising pay. Right now, drivers’ weekly earnings are increasing at a tremendous pace, roughly four times than the historical average due to high demand and limited supply.
To learn more about the truck driving program at TCC, click here.