BROADVIEW HEIGHTS, Ohio (WOIO) - As large swaths of the country are effectively shut down to combat the coronavirus outbreak, the American trucking industry is firing on nearly all cylinders.
There are approximately 3.5 million professional truck drivers, according to the American Trucking Associations, which calls the industry “the lifeblood of the U.S. economy.”
“I’m not worried about the coronavirus, because I’m in that cab 99% of the time,” said Terry Lawrence. “I’ve got food. This is one of the rare occasions I’m getting out."
19 News caught up with several truckers at the Turnpike Service Plaza in Broadview Heights.
Lawrence was on his way to Gary, Ind.
“I have more of a chance of getting the virus from you, than you do of me,” he said, noting his habit of staying in his truck.
Many drivers told us they’re seeing much lighter traffic, a welcome sight as they criss-cross the country.
But the outbreak is undoubtedly impacting them.
“Right now my dispatcher wont send me to California, because the ports have lost over 25% of volume,” Lawrence said. “There’s no freight coming out of there. It’s not worth it to go to California, because coming out you’re barely making fuel money. You’re going to see some companies go out of business. And it’s going to be the mom and pop, owner-operators that are barely hanging in there.”
Lawrence said he’s hauling food products, so he feels as though his work is safe.
But for those who specialize in specific areas, he foresees major struggles.
“All the drivers that normally take care of the conventions, all the music venues and everything else ... they’re told to go home because there’s not anything to do,” he said.
Earlier this month, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an emergency declaration to ease some of the regulations that are traditionally aimed at keeping drivers safe.
The declaration eliminates many of the standard “hours of service” requirements that limit how long drivers can operate consecutively and how their rest breaks are configured.
“We’re being pushed to drive longer, so we have to be careful with being fatigued while we’re driving,” said John Hennighan, who was on his way from Ohio to Florida.
“Because of the decisive leadership of President Trump and Secretary Chao, this declaration will help America’s commercial drivers get these critical goods to impacted areas faster and more efficiently. FMCSA is continuing to closely monitor the coronavirus outbreak and stands ready to use its authority to protect the health and safety of the American people,” said FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen in a news release announcing the plan.
“I love what I do,” said James Queen. “Sometimes [there is] pressure. You’ve got a time limit and a certain window, so sometimes -- yeah. But with a lot of people not on the road, it’s a lot smoother.”
We spoke to Queen as he was getting back into his truck as he was on his way to Detroit.
“I’ve never seen a plaza that empty,” he said while laughing. “[It’s] my first time seeing the plaza with ... like nobody in there.”
The last few weeks, he said, have been unlike anything he’s experienced before.
“I’ve never seen nothin’ like it,” he said.