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woman truckerRyder System, one of America’s leading trucking firms, has partnered with non-profit Women in Trucking to improve working conditions for women truckers through redesigns of truck cabs.

The collaboration is aimed at improving working conditions for female drivers and enhancing safety through ergonomic truck cab designs that address the unique challenges women face when operating today's commercial heavy duty vehicles.

At the core of the joint effort is research conducted by Women in Trucking in partnership with the College of Management at the University of Wisconsin-Stout in Menomonie, Wisconsin.

Dr. Jeanette Kersten, assistant professor of Operations and Management at the university, conducted the research to identify custom vehicle designs that better meet the needs of female drivers. As part of this partnership, Ryder will deploy these designs in its owned and leased fleet and will help encourage vehicle manufacturers to consider additional design changes.

"There are close to 200,000 women truck drivers, and that number is steadily growing," says Ellen Voie, CEO of Women In Trucking. "Having Ryder's support, particularly given their strong relationships with top vehicle manufacturers, represents a significant step forward to help the industry attract more female drivers and improve the work environment for the thousands of women who've already established careers as professional drivers."

The pilot study was a partnership between the Women In Trucking Association and students in Dr. Kersten's Organization Development graduate course at U W-Stout. In spring 2012, Dr. Kersten and her graduate students developed a survey that specifically assessed truck cab design and driver experience. The results of the pilot study identified numerous opportunities for improvement in the designs for seats, dashes, steering, and in-cab ergonomics for female drivers.

The pilot study conducted by Kersten, Voie, Mauer, Palakeel, and Chacon in April 2012 corroborated the research published by Jinhua; Hongwei; Bradtmiller; Tsui-Ying; Reed; Jahns; Loczi; Hardee; and Piamonte in Human Factors in October, 2012. The findings in both studies highlight the fact that the average female driver is six inches shorter and 50 pounds lighter than her male counterpart.

This physical discrepancy can create issues for female drivers operating trucks designed and built for men. For example, seats, pedals, and gauges are designed to maximize a male's driving experience and performance. However, female drivers typically have problems setting their seats for easy access to the pedals and maximum visibility of the gauges and mirrors. Female truck drivers are also challenged in regard to cab accessibility, i.e., getting into their trucks.

With steps and hand rails placed in locations designed for men, women are commonly forced to enter and exit their vehicles in a manner that makes them more prone to slips, trips, and falls.

This research has been presented to the National Transportation Research Board, the Technology and Maintenance Council, and to various truck manufacturers. The findings of this pilot study will also be presented at the Women's Issues in Transportation Conference April 14-16 in Paris, France.

"Today's trucks are not designed with women in mind," said Dr. Kersten. "Given the driver shortage and the changing demographics that the trucking industry faces, it's important for manufacturers to make trucks more female-friendly through moderate design changes for seats, pedals and gauges, for example. Not only will this make trucks easier and more comfortable for women to operate, but it will also better ensure greater safety for female drivers."

Some of the vehicle specifications Ryder is reviewing include:

  • Height and placement of cab steps and grab handles
  • Adjustable foot pedal height (accelerator, brake, clutch)
  • Height of seat belts (shoulder area)
  • Visibility of dash gauges
  • Electric/hydraulic hood lifting mechanism
  • Automated transmission shift lever placement/location
  • Access to the top of the dash
  • Better access to oil and coolant check and fill

"It's important for manufacturers to take women's needs into consideration when designing and specifying new vehicles, and we are encouraging all of our major suppliers to do so," said Scott Perry, vice president, Supply Management for Ryder. "In addition, many of the same design changes will also support the needs of men who are smaller in stature, as well as the growing population of aged male drivers. With the current industry-wide shortage of professional drivers, this is a strategic initiative that can have far-reaching implications for truck fleets."

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