In 2019, women made up only 10 percent of over the road truck drivers, which may seem like a small percentage in a heavily male dominated industry, but the good news is that the number of female drivers continues to climb every year. Every year there is a shortage of professional drivers, some companies such as Dart Transit based in Eagan, Minnesota have begun to seek out women drivers as they are the biggest potential pool for new job candidates. The USA today reports that trucking as an occupation is among the most dangerous jobs ranked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but women drivers are typically safer than men because women take fewer risks and get in fewer crashes.
Women have been involved with truck driving for more than 100 years, the first woman to drive coast to coast was Alice Huyler Ramsey. In 1909 the 22 year old Alice drove from New York to California, she drove a four cylinder Maxwell DA, the trip took her 59 days and covered over 3,800 miles.
The first woman to obtain a commercial driver’s license was Luella Bates. Luella Bates was employed by the Four Wheel Drive Auto company, in January 1920 Bates drove a FWD Model B to New York City where she was attending the New York Auto show as a driver and demonstrator of the FWD truck, it was there that Bates met with Secretary of State of New York Francis Hugo, and this led to Bates becoming the first female to receive her commercial driver’s license. Bates was such a huge success in New York the FWD Company kept her on and sent her out on several road tours to demonstrate that their truck was so easy to steer that even a woman could drive it, likely not an advertising campaign that would do well in today’s society.
The first woman to own a trucking company was Lillie Elizabeth Drennan. In 1929 she was the first woman to receive a commercial driver’s license if the State of Texas, it was later that same year she became the first woman to own a trucking company (Drennan Truck Lines). Mrs. Drennan and her drivers, most of whom were black men, hauled an assortment of items from oilfield equipment, explosives, and general freight throughout East Texas. Mrs. Drennan’s biggest claim to fame was her impeccable safety record, throughout her many years of operating her trucking line she received numerous safety awards and she was often used as an example of how other drivers should conduct themselves.
It’s great to see the trucking industry begin to understand what a valuable asset women can be to the industry. Some changes are starting to be noticed to make accommodations for women, truck stops have begun to update their showers to be more women friendly, and some truck stops have also added things like fitness rooms and have also changed their menus to include more health conscious choices. There is still a lot of work to be done, one of the major concerns for women in the industry continues to be safety for women, and continued sexism towards women from male drivers, hopefully over time more and more support resources will become available to make women feel just as appreciated as the men are in the trucking industry.