Truck drivers experience changes at work

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 8, 2020

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By Lisa Tindell

Driving an 18-wheel truck has its challenges but with the change in the way Americans are reacting to the spread of COVID-19, some truckers are seeing some relief.

Keith Cooper, who drives at big-rig for the Walmart Corporation, says the traffic he encounters in his daily routine has changed dramatically in the past week.

“My travel is limited to the Southeast and there has been a big difference in how many people there are on the roads,” Cooper said. “Coming through Atlanta has always been rough, but last week the roads were a little clearer through there. There are a lot fewer travelers on the roads right now.”

Cooper said getting his loads to their destination has still been a challenge, but he sees a change in attitudes from people he has been in contact with along the way, mostly because of the goods he was delivering.

“When I delivered a load in Georgia last week, I had a lady to tell me I was a hero for what I was doing,” Cooper said. “I don’t feel like I’m a hero. It’s just what I do. It’s my job. When we deliver a load of toilet paper or disinfectant, I can see why people are glad.”

Cooper said some of the rules and regulations truckers usually have to observe have been relaxed in response to the needs of the public.

“We have certain rules we have to follow when it comes to the weight of our trucks and trailers,” Cooper said. “Right now, that has been relaxed a little and we are able to put more product on our loads. Given what we are having to deliver the Department of Transportation is allowing us to carry more weight. We are also seeing some relaxation of the times we work. With so many loads of freight being expedited, we are seeing the number of hours we work relaxed as well.”

Cooper said drivers are only allowed to drive 70 hours in an eight-day period with a 34-hour rest between assignments.

“We see some things change based on the needs of the people we deliver to,” Cooper said. “When it’s a time-sensitive product, you just have to get it there and we’re making that happen.

Cooper said the slow in traffic on the highways has made the job easier, but that vision is one that is sobering.

“I hate the reason we’re seeing this change in traffic,” Cooper said. “It’s hard to think about why the roads are clearer and less congested but it does make it easier on us as drivers. We are being asked to work every hour that we can to make sure we get the needed supplies to those who need them as quickly as possible. Having fewer people on the highways makes that job a little easier.”

Although Cooper said he was hailed as a hero for the job he’s been doing, he laid a little praise to heroes he sees in other areas.

“We aren’t heroes at all in my opinion,” Cooper said. “The real heroes are the healthcare workers who are out there dealing with sick people every minute of their workday. I have a daughter who works in the emergency room in Andalusia and she’s working with sick folks every day. She is due to have a baby at the end of this month, so she worries about what she comes into contact with and possibly taking that back home to the family. Those are the heroes, the folks that are putting their well being on the line for others every day. Us truck drivers are just doing our jobs.”

Cooper said he is thankful for those who have expressed appreciation for the job he does, but even staying off the roads isn’t the best thing folks can do for truck drivers.

“Pray for us,” Cooper said. “I appreciate all the kudos right now. But praying for us – and for each other – is the best thing anyone could do right now.”