Trucker employment expected to grow by 11%

By John Howard, M.D.

Director, NIOSH

From armchairs to zucchini, almost everything we buy is transported by truck. Long-haul truck drivers are drivers of heavy tractor trailers whose freight delivery routes require them to sleep away from home most nights. They live on the road with limited access to healthy foods, drive long hours, have low physical activity levels, and feel stress from demanding schedules. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, employment of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers is projected to grow 11% from 2012 to 2022. As more men and women become truck drivers, it is important that we make their health and safety a priority.

Last year, NIOSH published the findings from the National Survey of U.S. Long-Haul Truck Driver Health and Injury. The study is the first to provide a comprehensive look at the health status, health and safety risk factors, and work practices of long-haul truck drivers in the United States. During 2010, NIOSH researchers collected data from 1,670 long-haul truck drivers at 32 truck stops across the 48 contiguous United States.

Data from the survey are a key component of NIOSH's first-ever Vital Signs, CDC's monthly release of data and calls to action on important public health issues. The theme of this month's Vital Signs, launched on March 3, is Trucker Safety: Using a Seat Belt Matters. Vital Signs includes an article in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) based on data on truck drivers' seat belt use from the NIOSH survey. It also provides a graphic fact sheet and website, a media release, and social media tools. Most of the Vital Signs materials are available in English and Spanish.

Crashes Leading Cause of Trucker Fatalities

It will come as no surprise to our readers that motor vehicles crashes are the leading cause of fatal work-related injuries for truck drivers in the United States. But, the NIOSH survey provides important new insights into the relationship between long-haul drivers' work environment and a higher likelihood of health problems. Key health findings of the survey were:

  • Seven in ten long-haul truck drivers were obese (BMI of 30 or higher): twice the number of U.S. adult workers that were obese.
  • More than half of long-haul truck drivers were current cigarette smokers: over twice the number of current cigarette smokers among all U.S. adult workers.
  • Long-haul truck drivers were twice as likely as other workers to report they were told they had diabetes.
  • More than half of long-haul truck drivers reported having two or more of the following risk factors: high blood pressure, obesity, smoking, little physical activity, high cholesterol, six or fewer hours of sleep.
  • About six in ten long-haul truck drivers slept less than six days at home within the past month, while 18% spent zero days.

Poor health can affect truck drivers during their working lives and into retirement. Health issues can also force truck drivers to leave the industry. If a health problem affects a driver's ability to control and drive a commercial motor vehicle safely, he or she may not qualify for a commercial driver's license. This infographic, created by NIOSH, illustrates the impact of obesity on a truck driver's livelihood.

This initial survey on long-haul truck drivers provides baseline health and injury data that can be used to inform the development of interventions such as occupational health screenings, well-being programs, and expanded workplace health and safety policies. Findings from the study have been used to demonstrate the need to address the health and well-being of truck drivers on and off the job. The data can be used as benchmarks to assess the impact of prevention efforts on truck driver health and safety and help improve the overall health and work environment for long-haul truck drivers.

I invite you to learn about our work and to consider ways in which you can collaborate in moving this research to practice. Please contact Karl Sieber at WSieber@cdc.gov if you are interested in partnering in this endeavor.