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        Faculty, Research

        Female truckers are safer drivers, and more are needed, research shows

        July 8, 2024 By Troy Turner

        All News


        Woman standing in front of trucks

        Photo credit: Adobe Stock image,

        Two Auburn University Harbert College of Business researchers who studied the trucking industry found a consistent pattern they say sends a clear message: Women truck drivers are safer, and more likely to follow the rules of the road.

        Hiring more women into the industry would help address nationwide issues with driver shortages, which in turn affects supply chain management. And that, they say, should encourage corporate and government leaders to consider why more women aren’t in the driver’s seat.

        Trucks move more than 70 percent of the freight shipped within the United States, and many companies across the nation are looking for solutions to a shortage of drivers. Giant retailer Walmart, for example, has initiated a program that allows qualified associates working on its store floors to train and become truck drivers at higher pay.

        The lack of women drivers, however, is one of the most standout areas of potential because of the tremendous labor pool available for recruitment: more than 95 percent of U.S. truck drivers are male.

        The truck-driver image

        Beth Davis-Sramek, chair of the Department of Supply Chain Management, and Harbert Eminent Scholar Dave Ketchen from the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship, conducted the research using more than 22 million data points from truck inspections conducted 2010 to 2022.

        2 headshots side by side

        Harbert College of Business faculty members Dave Ketchen (left) and Beth Davis-Sramek

        Their study is published in Production and Operations Management, a premier journal within the supply chain management field.

        The two realized the need for a closer look while discussing industry challenges in round table conversations with other researchers studying supply chain issues.

        “The truck driver shortage has been significant for a long time,” Davis-Sramek said. “There have been a lot of policy discussions about it. That’s really when we started thinking about the industry and the shortage and the gender difference, because part of it is, if there were more women drivers, there would be less of a shortage.”

        So why the discrepancy? It starts with the image of a truck driver, Ketchen said.

        “You think about the culture of that industry. It’s always been very Smokey and the Bandit, Convoy, very male-oriented, historically,” he said, referring to movies featuring male truck drivers at the center of the action. Meanwhile, “50 percent of the population has been barely tapped to be truck drivers.”

        More concerning, the researchers said, are the safety concerns and convenience factors women face that deter them from considering or remaining in the profession.

        Among them: inadequate lighting at truck stops and rest areas, unsafe parking options that make women fearful, shower facilities at truck stops that cater more to male drivers than female, a lack of security at rest stops and parking areas, and even simple things like the location of trash cans that may require women drivers to walk too far under dim lighting, Davis-Sramek said.

        “From a policy perspective, these are things that should certainly spur more thought and concerns,” she said.

        Increased security, more parking capacity, better lighting, and closer trash cans are problems that can readily be removed as barriers to women being truck drivers, she said.

        Ketchen agreed, adding that it would be wise for the trucking industry, companies that ship goods, and governments to explore ways of working together to provide better infrastructure at privately owned commercial truck stops and state-managed roadside rest areas.

        “They should be talking to each other and asking, ‘hey, what can we do together to create better conditions for drivers?’” he said.

        Worth the investment

        Maybe the most compelling reason for bringing more women into the industry is that doing so could save lives. Truck accidents kill thousands annually, and such accidents cost the U.S. economy billions of dollars.

        “Men consistently were more likely than women to engage in risky driving behavior, regardless of the circumstances or the type of carrier, from 2010 to 2022,” according to the study.

        Specifically, men were 13.2% more likely to have a major unsafe driving violation, such as driving more than 15 miles per hour over the posted limit, and 7.4% more likely to drive more hours than allowed by the government. As the researchers note, such violations “make truck accidents more likely and more deadly.”

        Adding more women to the ranks of truck drivers would likely reduce accident rates given their tendency to respect rules more than men, the researchers said. And with roughly 3.5 million truckers on the road in the U.S., even modest improvements in safety could pay big dividends.


        Alex Scott, an associate professor in the Haslam College of Business at the University of Tennessee, worked with the Auburn duo to co-author the report, which can be found at: