Throwing the baby out with the bathroom water

Img 1717 Headshot
Updated Jul 3, 2023

When I think back on 2020, the pandemic obviously looms large.

Sheltered in place. Schools closed. Sports seasons canceled. Paper products and food shortages, and this unshakeable feeling of "what the hell is going on?" It was a weird time. 

[Related: Trucker bathroom access bill reintroduced]

I didn't hate all of it, and I suspect very few of you did either. I got to spend more time with my kids because none of us could go anywhere. We dusted off a Wii that we hadn't touched in years. My then-16 year old daughter and I re-discovered our love of Mario Kart racing and we passed that competitive fire down to my then-9 year old daughter. She preferred, however, the more simple pleasures: Super Mario Brothers on the original Nintendo. 

But not all family time was quality time. We took a vacation to the beach, a roughly 3 hour and 30 minute trip from our home. We make this same drive every year and we have places we stop along the way, generally to grab a drink, get gas and/or use the bathroom. In 2020, none of that was a guarantee.

I'd planned for most of this, but I was not was prepared for what lie ahead. Fast food places had closed their dining rooms and locked their doors. Many gas stations were pay at the pump. If you could go inside, the bathrooms were most often off limits to the public. State-operated welcome centers and rest areas were closed. If you had to go to the bathroom on the road, you were – for the most part – you-know-what out of luck. 

Imagine being a truck driver and facing this routinely as part of your job, pre- or post-pandemic. This isn't breaking news to most of us, but that was a new feeling for many – and it's demoralizing. 

There's currently a legislative push that would require shippers and receivers to grant bathroom access to truck drivers making stops at their facility. It's both baffling and disappointing that it's come to that. 

I used to run a group of newspapers in my former life and I remember something one of my first bosses told me: "Some customers you can't afford to keep." If you don't hold to your rates and/or your processes, a paying customer can leverage you right out of business. 

I know what you're saying. "Nobody is running away from freight in this environment." I get that, but any shipper that denies a driver reasonable access to a restroom isn't a customer you can afford to keep. If I'm a driver, I'm refusing dispatch to that customer's facilities, creating a logistical challenge for load planning. It's also not a great way to treat that next driver. What if they have to use the bathroom too? From an employee relations perspective, that doesn't say anything good. 

I know at least one shipper/receiver is reading this and arguing that their bathrooms used to be open to drivers but one time (or maybe more than one time) a driver went in there and destroyed it, so they are now off limits. Wouldn't it have been more appropriate to ban that driver from your facilities rather than just throwing all the babies out with the bath water? How many shipments does a company handle in a week? I bet restroom visits were pretty uneventful more often than not.

Our industry certainly has its share of self-inflicted problems, and those include the condition in which a few bad apples leave bathrooms and parking lots. But how many times have you stopped in a public restroom only to find it looked like a crime scene? This isn't a trucking-specific phenomenon. 

A couple weeks ago, Dave Williams, a CCJ columnist, Truckload Carriers Association Chairman, and Senior Vice President of Equipment and Government Relations at Knight-Swift Transportation (CCJ Top 250, No. 5), asked what TCA can do as an association, and what could be done as an industry, to better advocate for drivers. 

"Before we get to the point of listing which shippers allow [bathroom] access and which shippers don’t allow access, we need to issue a challenge to all our shippers and consignees to open their doors and be a part of the solution," Dave wrote in his column.

I don't think you issue a challenge, you issue an ultimatum: Grant our drivers reasonable access to a restroom or find someone else to haul your freight. I doubt you'd see any meaningful shipper or receiver push back. This isn't a hill any denier of bathroom privileges is willing to die on because the position itself is politically indefensible. 

An older gentleman during that 2020 vacation trip walked into a gas station and asked the attendant to use the restroom that was clearly marked closed. The attendant didn't budge. It was closed to the public, and he was the public. "I'm going to use the bathroom in this gas station. You get to decide where," he replied. That bathroom was unlocked fairly quickly. I doubt he was the first person to ask to use that restroom, but I bet he was the first one to draw a line in the sand. And he won. 

The general public, at least those that hit the highway during the worst of the pandemic, got a healthy dose of how much a lack of available amenities on the road really, really sucks. It makes everything you do harder. You have to plan entire trips around covering basic needs like eating, resting, parking and using the bathroom. 

It doesn't have to be that way, nor should it be. 

Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at