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Women Commercial Drivers & Safety


This Research Needs Statement describes a series of studies to examine the safety and operational performance of women commercial (truck and bus) drivers with the potential outcome of increasing their numbers with resulting safety and economic benefits.


The United States and Canada face a long-term and worsening shortage of commercial truck and bus drivers, even though U.S. unemployment hovers at nearly 8% of the labor force. The chronic and continuing driver shortage has prompted government and industry officials to look for ways to expand the base of potential commercial drivers. Significantly expanding the base of potential drivers would not only lessen labor shortages, it would improve safety by allowing carriers to be more selective in their hiring. Numerous studies (e.g., Knipling et al., 2004) have shown that approximately 10-15% of commercial drivers are associated with 35-50% of crash risk. Increasing the number of potential drivers would mean that carriers could be more selective in their hiring. Eliminating a substantial portion of high-risk driver hires would significantly reduce industry-wide risk, and would do the same at the level of individual companies.

Women are the biggest untapped demographic group for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) driving. Women currently represent only about 5% of U.S. truck drivers per the Bureau of Labor Statistics. They are 46% of bus drivers per BLS, though this statistic includes mostly school bus drivers. Industry sources suggest that 10-15% of motor coach drivers are women. Regardless of the overall driving safety of women compared to men, greatly increasing the number of women drivers would improve CMV safety by enabling greater selectivity of drivers, as suggested above. Yet there are also indications that female commercial drivers are generally as safe, and probably safer, than their male counterparts. To the extent that women are safer than men, increasing their numbers would improve CMV safety.

Among the general population of motorists, males are unquestionably riskier than females. As Shinar (2007, P. 349) stated, “Gender is a great divide among drivers in their driving style, driving violations, and crash involvement. . . . In general, men are more likely to exhibit overt aggressive behaviors than women . . .[and] this difference extends to the world of driving.” A new report from the European Transport Safety Council (2013) reviews extensive evidence showing that males have far more crash involvements and serious injuries than do women, although most statistics showing these differences are not controlled for mileage exposure. The report also cites various studies showing male-female differences in risk-taking and other unsafe attitudes and behaviors. Research suggests that, compared to females, males drive faster, violate more traffic rules (including alcohol limits), are more likely to view safety interventions (e.g., alcohol interlocks, safety belts) negatively, and are more likely to lose vehicle control.

Evans (2004) looked at male-female traffic citation ratios within six different age and racial groups. The male-female risk ratio was 2.0 or higher in all six subgroups. He also cites survey data showing that males have about twice the propensity to speed, as well as less inclination to moderate their driving in adverse safety conditions (e.g., slippery roads). Further, Evans presents extensive evidence of a strong association between blood testosterone levels and risk. He plots age curves for male testosterone, arrests for non-traffic crimes, and involvement in single-vehicle motor vehicle crashes. These three age curves are almost identical. Evans also presents compelling statistics showing that male-female differences in accident risk begin almost from birth. This further suggests biological origins. Regardless of extent to which male-female risk differences are constitutional as opposed to cultural, it is clear that they are deep-seated and pervasive.

The AAA Safety Foundation conducted an online survey of self-reported aggressive driving behaviors. Survey sampling and response weighting were designed to provide nationally representative statistics on U.S. drivers aged 16 and older. More than 78% of drivers reported having engaged in at least one aggressive driving behavior over the past year. The most common such behaviors were purposely tailgating another vehicle, yelling at another driver, and honking one’s horn in anger. Males were significantly more likely than females to have engaged in all eight of the aggressive behaviors addressed. Gender differences were most pronounced for the most extreme (but least frequent) behaviors. Males were more than three times as likely to have exited their vehicles to confront another driver or to have bumped or rammed another vehicle on purpose.

Women represent approximately 5% of truck drivers, although this statistic is approximate and does not capture either mileage exposure or variations in driver gender for different types of trucking operations. Crash statistics provided by the FMCSA for 2006-2009 show that women were 2.0% of the drivers involved in truck property-damage-only (PDO) crashes and 2.7% of those in fatal crashes. Crash statistics for motorists in general show lower crash incidence rates per 100,000 drivers for females than for males, especially for severe crashes. In 2009, the female involvement rate per 100,000 drivers was 26% lower than the male rate for PDO crashes, but 64% lower for fatal crashes. A low relative involvement in severe crashes is especially important in CMV transport because it means reduced carrier exposure to liability from catastrophic crashes.

A specific safety and health advantage for females over males is a lower incidence of Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) and other safety-relevant medical conditions. Among the general population, OSA incidence among females is about half that of males (Young et al., 1993; Young et al., 2002). Among drivers, the difference might be even greater. Reed and Cronin (2003) reported the incidence of self-reported “sleeping difficulties” among female truck drivers to be only 2%, far less than other reports of sleep disorders among male drivers (e.g., Pack et al., 2002), although results across different studies and methodologies might not be comparable. OSA is associated with elevated crash risks and, increasingly, liability claims against CMV transport companies. Females also have lower rates of cardiovascular illness than males; driver medical crises like heart attacks are another safety concern in CMV transport.

On the other hand, given a crash, female truck drivers appear to be more vulnerable to injury than their male counterparts. In the four-year period 2005-2008, women were 1.7% of the drivers involved in injury crashes, but 5.2% of the drivers who were themselves injured. Biomechanics research has revealed numerous male-female differences relating to bones, muscles, and joints (Voie, 2012; Guan et al., 2012). Differential morbidity in crashes could also partially be an artifact of age differences between female and male drivers. Many female drivers enter the profession during their 40s and 50s, often after their children are grown (Reed and Cronin, 2003). Often they enter as team drivers with their husbands. A detailed review of the age distributions of drivers killed and injured in crashes would shed light on this question. Increased injury vulnerability might also be related to commercial vehicle safety belt design. Bergoffen et al. (2005) observed that “belts were not as comfortable or effective with large- or small-statured individuals.”

Another possible vulnerability of women commercial drivers is to assault at truck stops, rest areas, or other locations. In one survey (Reed and Cronin, 2003), one-third of female truck driver respondents claimed to be victims of harassment several times a week, and many felt so unsafe at truck stops that they generally did not leave their trucks to exercise or to eat. While the atmosphere for women drivers has improved over the past decade, personal safety remains a concern.

The above crash and behavioral statistics suggest that greatly increasing the number of women truck and bus drivers could result in a significant decrease in serious CMV crashes. The statistics are only suggestive, however, since no reliable exposure statistics are available, and since the problem has not been analyzed in depth. Moreover, the prospect of more women truck and bus drivers raises operational and security issues beyond crash involvement per se. There are questions about non-driving personal safety. Driver performance measures like reliability, comportment, customer relations, retention, and absenteeism encompass more than safety per se but are still relevant to long-term safety outcomes.


No published U.S. research has examined the safety performance of women commercial drivers, the potential safety effects of increasing their numbers, and implications for motor carriers wishing to expand their pool of potential drivers to include more female drivers. An envisioned series of studies (conducted separately or as one integrated effort) would do this, pursuing the specific research objectives such as the following:

(1) Analyze the crash, traffic violation, and inspection violation experiences of female commercial drivers and compare it to those of male drivers.

(2) Comprehensively review research literature on the safety of female commercial drivers, with emphasis on driving safety, but also addressing non-driving work safety (e.g., loading/unloading, vehicle ingress/egress), and personal safety (i.e., assaults).

(3) Analyze statistics and review literature on gender differences in crashes and traffic violations among non-commercial adult motorists.

(4) Review ergonomic and other vehicle design issues relating to use of commercial vehicles by female operators (e.g., operator size and strength requirements, ability to reach foot pedals and other controls, safety belt design). This could also include non-driving ergonomic issues; e.g., related to tractor and trailer ingress/egress, vehicle inspection/maintenance, cargo loading/unloading, and cargo securement.

(5) Survey motor carrier safety directors on the safety performance of women drivers and related personnel, health, and operational issues. Identify priority problems and successful solutions.

(6) Conduct in-depth case study interviews with a sample of motor carriers to learn of their experiences with women drivers and any policies they have developed to support women drivers in their fleets. Identify effective management practices relating to women drivers and more broadly related to enlarging the pool of potential drivers.

(7) Survey women commercial drivers to find out their perspectives on these issues and, specifically, to identify perceived barriers or other difficulties they face. Such surveys could be stratified by age and/or driving tenure for representativeness and for broader perspectives. Another likely stratification is solo versus team drivers.

(8) Survey females in comparable non-driving occupations to determine their views of commercial driving. This might include former CMV drivers who have left the industry.

(9) Identify analysis, research, and development (e.g., training, outreach) needs for fostering an increase in female drivers.

(10) Develop prototype industry outreach literature and/or media to encourage expanded industry recruiting and hiring of women drivers.

Urgency/Priority/Strategic Relevance:

This project supports public safety, economic opportunity and equality, industry performance, and government goals. The project is justified on economic grounds alone, but it would also bring safety benefits. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA’s) strategic mission is to “Reduce crashes, injuries, and fatalities involving CMV transportation through education, innovation, regulation, enforcement, financial assistance, partnerships, and full accountability. A specific FMCSA priority in its 2012-2016 Strategic Plan is to remove high-risk commercial drivers from service. This project would directly support this FMCSA goal by increasing the potential CMV driver labor pool, thereby enabling carrier selection and hiring of drivers to be more selective. As suggested above, the worst 15% of (overwhelmingly male) drivers represent up to half of all motor carrier crash liability risk; replacing these high-risk drivers with qualified female drivers would likely reduce CMV-at fault crashes substantially.


The entire research program suggested above could be achieved given 18-24 senior-level person-months and supporting junior and administrative staff. The project could also be conducted as a series of smaller, separate efforts. This might include university-based masters- and doctoral-level projects. A large-scale industry outreach and/or media program based on the research (Objective 10 above) would require separate budgeting and would be more expensive.

User Community:

Motor carriers, truck and bus industry groups, insurance companies, FMCSA, NIOSH, academia, other types of work-related transportation companies and organizations.


This research needs statement has been reviewed and endorsed by the TRB Committee on Women in Transportation, ABE70.


Program effectiveness would be measured by increases in the number of female CMV drivers and their job performance relative to males.


This research needs statement was prepared principally by Ellen Voie, CAE, President & CEO, Women in Trucking; PO Box 400, Plover, WI 54467-0400, (888) 464-9482, Ellen@WomenInTrucking.org, www.womenintrucking.org; and Ronald R. Knipling, Ph.D., President, Safety for the Long Haul, Inc., (703) 533-2895, rknipling@verizon.net, www.safetyforthelonghaul.com.

Key Words:

Women, commercial drivers, truck drivers, motorcoach drivers, gender, truck safety, driver risk, truck stops, driver shortage.

Cited References:

AAA Safety Foundation. Prevalence of Self-Reported Aggressive Driving Behavior: United States, 2014. July 2016.

Anderson, D. G. “Workplace Violence in Long Haul Trucking,” Occupational Health Nursing Update, AAOHN Journal, 52(1), Pp. 23-27, January 2004.

Bergoffen, G., Knipling, R.R., Tidwell, S.A., Short, J.B., Krueger, G.P., Inderbitzen, R.E., Reagle, G., and Murray, D.C. _Synthesis Report #8: Commercial Motor Vehicle Driver Safety Belt Usage. _ Project Final Report, Transportation Research Board Commercial Truck & Bus Synthesis Program. ISSN 1544-6808, ISSN 0-309-08827-5, 2005.

Evans, L. Traffic Safety. Science Serving Society, Bloomfield Hills, MI. ISBN 0-9754871-0-8, 2004.

European Transport Safety Council. Risk on the Roads – A Male Problem? Road Safety Performance Index (PIN) panel report. Available at http://etsc.eu/documents/Flash25_Gender.pdf. 2013

FMCSA. 2012-2016 Strategic Plan. Available at http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/documents/STRATEGIC-PLAN/FMCSAStrategicPlan2012-2016.pdf.

Guan J, Hsiao H, Bradtmiller B, Kau T-Y, Reed MR, Jahns S, Loczi J, Hardee HL, Piamonte D. 2012. U.S. Truck Driver Anthropometric Study and Multivariate Anthropometric Models for Cab Designs. Human Factors 54(5):859-875.

Knipling, R.R., Boyle, L.N., Hickman, J.S., York, J.S., Daecher, C., Olsen, E. C. B., and Prailey, T.D. Synthesis Report #4: Individual Differences and the High- Risk Commercial Driver. Project Final Report, Transportation Research Board Commercial Truck & Bus Synthesis Program. ISSN 1544-6808, ISBN 0-309-08810-0, available at http://trb.org/news/blurb_browse.asp?id=11, 2004.

Knipling, R.R. and Nelson, K.C. Synthesis Report on Safety Management in Small Motor Carriers. Report MC-25. In press, TRB CTBSSP program, 2012.

Pack, A.I., Dinges, D.F., and Maislin, G. A Study of the Prevalence of Sleep Apnea Among Commercial Truck Drivers. Trucking Research Institute and the University of Pennsylvania, FMCSA Report No. FMCSA-RT-02-030, May 2002.

Reed, D.B, & Cronin, J.S. (2003). Health on the road: Issues faced by female truck drivers. AAOHN Journal, 51(3), 120-125.

Shinar, D. Traffic Safety and Human Behavior. Elsevier. Amsterdam. ISBN 978-0-08-0450029-2, 2007.

Voie, E. Challenges in equipment design for female transportation workers. Presentation, Session 338, Women’s Issues in Transportation, TRB Annual Meeting, Washington, DC., January, 2012.

Young, T., Palta, M., Dempsey, J., Skatrud, J., Weber, S., & Badr, S. The occurrence of sleep-disordered breathing among middle-aged adults. The New England Journal of Medicine, 328(17), 1230-1235, 1993.

Young, Terry, Paul E. Peppard, and Daniel J. Gottlieb "Epidemiology of Obstructive Sleep Apnea", American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Vol. 165, No. 9 (2002), pp. 1217-1239.


Examine the safety and operational performance of women commercial (truck and bus) drivers with the potential outcome of increasing their numbers with resulting safety and economic benefits.

Sponsoring Committee:ANB70, Truck and Bus Safety
RNS Developer:Ellen Voie, CAE, President & CEO, Women in Trucking; PO Box 400, Plover, WI 54467-0400, (888) 464-9482, Ellen@WomenInTrucking.org, www.womenintrucking.org; and Ronald R. Knipling, Ph.D., President, Safety for the Long Haul, Inc., (703) 533-2895, rknipling@verizon.net, www.safetyforthelonghaul.com.
Date Posted:09/20/2013
Date Modified:08/15/2016
Index Terms:Commercial drivers, Females, Truck drivers, Trucking safety, Risk assessment, High risk drivers, Truck stops,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Motor Carriers
Freight Transportation
Safety and Human Factors
Passenger Transportation

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