Keeping drivers means offering more than health insurance coverage

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This is the first in a four part series on truck driver health and wellness, and part of CCJ's What Drivers Want series. Other parts in the series are "Fleets' have a role in driver health and wellness", "Easing drivers' access to healthcare", and "The big picture of driver wellness includes mental health".

Bob Perry, a health advocate for truck drivers, said his father, who drove a truck for a living for 45 years, retired with what he calls the professional truck driver health care package: high blood pressure, sleep apnea and diabetes. The trucking industry loses over 300,000 drivers each year due to poor health, whether that be from the worst-case scenario of death or the more common cause of losing their health card because they failed their DOT physical.

“It does take a toll on you,” said Perry, president of Health in Transportation.

According to CCJ’s What Drivers Want report, health was among drivers’ top concerns coming in at No. 2 between paying bills each month (No. 1 at 33%) and saving for retirement (No. 3). CCJ polled more than 800 leased owner-operators and company drivers, and of those, 22% said their health was their No. 1 concern, 17% said it was their second-biggest concern and 11% ranked it third. Company drivers were more concerned about health, with 25% ranking it No. 1, compared to 17% of owner operators ranking it No. 1. And when asked the one thing drivers dislike the most about their job, 6% said the occupation has been bad for their health with that percentage rising the older the driver is.

The average age of survey respondents was 60 years old, and the average life expectancy of a commercial truck driver is 61. That’s 16 years lower than the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The CDC says it pretty clearly is a very unhealthy population and mainly because of the regulation of the job, all the time living on the road, no access to good food, no form of exercise,” etc., Perry said.

Regulations (35%) is the thing drivers dislike most about their job, saying they make it harder to work and make a living, according to the CCJ Survey in which many drivers commented on the regulatory aspect, including its effects on health.

One driver commented that regulations interfere with circadian rhythm and that drive time should be based on individual health and capabilities, while another said the 14-hour rule results in him driving tired or sleepy.

“ELD particularly forces one to push harder to maintain productivity; the proposed speed limiter reg will increase pressure to wring every possible mile out of every possible minute,” another driver commented. “Hardly a recipe for a relaxed, patient approach to maintaining public safety and getting from point A to point B.”

[RELATED: Report shows safety ranks behind revenue growth, minimizing expenses]

Not only does regulated long driving hours affect driver’s physical health from lack of movement and physical activity to limited access to healthy food options, it also affects their mental health, placing stress on the driver to meet productivity goals while maintaining safety and isolating them from social interaction.

Those negative health effects trickle down to a company’s bottom line, affecting health insurance premiums, increasing the risk of accidents, and the cost associated with losing a driver and finding a replacement.

And more and more trucking companies are realizing the importance of driver health because of that.

“Carriers are caring more about this than they ever have before,” said Andy Vanzant, COO at Gulf Relay in Mississippi.

Angel Coker Jones is a senior editor of Commercial Carrier Journal, covering the technology, safety and business segments. In her free time, she enjoys hiking and kayaking, horseback riding, foraging for medicinal plants and napping. She also enjoys traveling to new places to try local food, beer and wine. Reach her at [email protected].