On April 16, Donald Trump celebrated truck drivers and the trucking industry on the White House lawn for their courage during the coronavirus pandemic.
“At a time of widespread shutdowns, truck drivers form the lifeblood of our economy,” the President said. “In the war against the virus, American truckers are the foot soldiers who are really carrying us to victory.”
He’s absolutely right. But there are other types of drivers who are rarely celebrated, or even defined as a group, but are equally deserving. You can call them vocational or business fleet drivers. The phrase doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, and it doesn’t have a cool word like “truck” in it.
They drive all types of vehicles, from sedans, pickups, and box trucks to purpose-built medium-duty trucks. They come home at night. They don’t rack up the miles that truckers do, but it’s not uncommon for them to accumulate 30,000 miles a year in their jobs.
These drivers are better known by their respective vocations — landscaping, pest control, construction, and dairy, to name a few — and by their job functions other than driving. They plumb sewers, install IT networks, fix copiers, spray insecticides, sell medical devices, and lay concrete.
And yes, many are on the frontlines of the pandemic, as sanitation workers, last-mile delivery drivers, EMTs, healthcare personnel, and industrial cleaning technicians.
Most are still doing business during the pandemic: In a recent Bobit survey, when asked if they had been forced by state or local mandate to close their businesses as a result of shelter-in-place orders, 84% of commercial and corporate fleet respondents said they hadn’t.
Certainly, many businesses have experienced slowdowns, which has forced them to chase the business that is booming. As a result, their drivers have had to pivot to new territories and processes as well, sometimes in a matter of days.
Truck drivers have no easy task, particularly those involved in emergency relief efforts, for whom hours-of-service rules have been relaxed. Luckily for those drivers, there have been high-level reexaminations of the process of loading, delivering, and unloading goods to minimize human contact.
Last-mile delivery drivers are meeting exponentially increased demands for essential goods during lockdowns. Many make more than 100 stops in a day. That’s a lot of touchpoints to manage, from clipboards and credit cards to fuel pumps and door handles to bathrooms — at least the ones that are open and available to a driver in need.
Vocational fleet drivers have updated safety protocols too, but their jobs by their nature bring them past loading docks into uncontrolled environments every day.
Rolando Aravena, a telecom field technician, died of COVID-19 on March 29. How and where he contracted the virus is unknown, but news reports say the job brought him to a hospital in New York City on March 11 to help prepare for the onslaught of patients.
Looking back, it almost feels like he was rushing into a burning building.
Commercial vehicle drivers, whether driving a truck or in the service of another vocation, have become some of the most indispensable workers in the world as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. This alone would understandably cause levels of anxiety and fatigue to spike in their ranks.
Let’s be extra sensitive to this group of workers at this time. They’re certainly not heroes; they’ll be the first ones to tell you. But by keeping their engines running, they keep their respective industries and communities going. It’s ironic that a pandemic has caused us to recognize and appreciate them.
To those drivers: You may not get a shout out from the White House lawn, but there are a few of us that understand what you do. We salute you.
Originally posted on Business Fleet