Rigged System

Women truck drivers are paving their own way through an often-hostile industry.

| Fall 2015

On a cold April night in Wyoming, Tracy Livingston realized she was in a tight spot. Outside, snow was on the ground, and she was alone in a semitruck with a driver who was threatening her. “I could just leave you here on the side of the road,” he told her, “and I don’t know what would happen to you.”

Tracy was going through truck-driver training, and a month of shadowing an experienced driver—taking turns driving, and often sleeping in the back of the cab—was mandatory. Her cell phone was out of range, and she was too scared to reach for the communication system to call their dispatcher.

The driver she was shadowing had slapped her ass. Tried to convince her to sleep with him in a single bed in a motel room. Listened in on her phone calls. Waited for her outside the truck-stop showers. But she needed the job, and wasn’t sure what to do.

Tracy was in her mid-30s and had never really been away from home without her family. She had gone through trucking school and now owed them $6,000. “I wasn’t in the position to just cough up thousands of dollars; if I was, I wouldn’t be here in the first place,” Tracy said. “Through the whole time training, he had told me stories of how things could be much worse. I kept telling myself I could deal with this, it’s not so bad.”

But after he yanked her off the sleeper bunk by her leg and told her he was going to “take care of her” before she got off the truck, she finally called her dispatcher and was removed from the situation. “He was given a six-month suspension from training,” Tracy says. “Then he was given another woman to train and he did it again.”

In a way, truck drivers are modern-day cowboys. They spend days, weeks, or months at a time on long lonely roads, hauling toilet paper, beer, vegetables, and more from where they are to where they need to be, through the sleet and snow of winter, the fog and haze of early morning, and the downpours of spring.