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Female truck drivers face sexual assault and harassment during training

FMCSA plans new study on sexual assault and harassment. But is that enough?

Feb. 22, 2024
FMCSA wants information from inside and outside the trucking industry for a study on sexual assault and harassment. But some truck drivers want the agency to take action instead, a driver advocate says.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration recently issued a request for information in preparation for a new study the organization will conduct on sexual assault and harassment in the commercial vehicle industry. But some women driver advocates—while welcoming further scrutiny—fear this is just pushing a solution to this driver safety problem further down the road.

In the request, published in the Federal Register, the FMCSA said it “seeks information on how best to design and conduct a study to identify, categorize, and assess context and trends of [sexual assault and harassment] in the CMV industry. FMCSA is particularly interested in how to support women currently in these jobs and those seeking to enter the CMV industry.”

According to the FMCSA, it hopes to hear from drivers and research experts in sexual assault and harassment to help create the best methodology for studying this sensitive topic. 

“The new study will provide more representative data, as well as deeper insights into [sexual assault and sexual harassment] prevalence, sources, types, and impacts,” an FMCSA spokesperson told FleetOwner. “The study will help better characterize the fundamental understanding of the magnitude and manner in which sexual assault and sexual harassment is occurring and its impact on the CMV industry.”

See also: Women speak up about harassment in trucking

FMCSA previously conducted a study on sexual assault and harassment in 2022 that “was limited in scope” but helped confirm that the agency should look more into this complex issue, the spokesperson said. “When the 2022 study was released, the FMCSA Women of Trucking Advisory Board received several comments from industry groups, victim advocates, and research organizations that suggested additional evaluation” of how sexual assault and harassment are affecting the CMV industry. 

Using the 2022 study as a basis, FMCSA wants to understand those effects better and “inform and prioritize [assault and harassment] countermeasures that could be implemented by a variety of CMV industry stakeholders and may include actions in areas such as workforce training, screening, facility enhancements, detection, and reporting of events and trends, driver management practices, victim protection, defense, counseling, and other actions related to finding perpetrators and creating consequences.”

The CMV industry’s sexual assault and harassment problem

The Center for Public Integrity claimed in 2022 that female truck drivers filed more than two dozen lawsuits against multiple trucking companies in the past 20 years, including accusations of negligence, discrimination, and retaliation in connection to sexual assaults. 

Real Women in Trucking is an organization composed of truck drivers dedicated to supporting women in the industry and their safety. According to RWIT Founder Desiree Wood, many cases of sexual assault and harassment in the industry occur during driver training. 

A driver since 2007, Wood recalled that during her training, she was paired with other drivers and had multiple incidents with these co-drivers while traveling with them. 

“I had a female trainer who was really unsafe; she was using narcotics pills while she was training me,” Wood said. “I had a man that threw bleach on me and threw my clothes off the truck when he got really drunk one night. I had another one that was making sexual comments that made me really uncomfortable. And when I started talking to other women, I was finding out that they were getting sexually assaulted.”

Wood claims that some trucking companies try to avoid sexual assault and harassment incidents by pairing new male drivers with male co-drivers and vice versa, but Wood doesn’t believe this is a viable solution.

“There’s been at least three murders of men, between men, in this team-driving business model that I know of in the last few years. And there’s also been several women attacking women. So that does not work,” Wood said. One of these murders was of Aristedes Garcia, a CRST driver who was allegedly murdered by a co-driver in 2022.

Same-gender training can also be problematic as there aren’t enough female drivers in the industry. In some cases, Wood claims women wanting to enter the industry have been “waitlisted” because there weren’t enough female drivers to train them.

Are studies enough?

When FleetOwner asked Wood about this new FMCSA study, she was both hopeful and frustrated.

“When you have a study, you kick the can down the road, so you don’t have to deal with it,” Wood said. “In the meantime, hundreds of women have been affected, and not just women. So that makes me very angry.”

According to Wood, new drivers entering the industry deserve safe training environments and better training programs and trainers. Still, Wood fears problematic drivers can stay in the industry even after being fired.

“We have drivers who are sexual predators, and we have made a fertile environment for them to jump from company to company whenever it gets too hot,” Wood said. “They get a verification of employment; it’s somebody else’s problem. They vanish back into the population. And then we found at some of these companies, they wipe out their records after a year.” She said that could signal to offenders that so long as you don’t get caught by the police, someone will hire you to drive.

Wood argues that because some trucking companies don’t take sexual assault or harassment seriously, they’re allowing dangerous predators to remain drivers. Wood said there should be a way to track nefarious individuals within the industry. But more broadly, there needs to be a change of heart for the industry as a whole to truly combat sexual assault and harassment.

“This is a difficult topic,” Wood said. “People go running for the hills when you try to talk to them about it because it’s uncomfortable for them. But it is happening, and it’s very specific. It’s happening at certain companies. It’s not happening at all of them.”

About the Author

Jenna Hume | Digital Editor

Digital Editor Jenna Hume previously worked as a writer in the gaming industry. She has a bachelor of fine arts degree in creative writing from Truman State University and a master of fine arts degree in writing from Lindenwood University. She is currently based in Missouri. 

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