OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — While the pandemic interrupted almost everything, the trucking industry didn't have a choice other than to keep going.
"They were still out on the road, they were still out there trying to get the essential freight moved like they do every day," Kent Grisham, President of the Nebraska Trucking Association, said. "We’re seeing all those empty store shelves. There’s a little bit of a sense of panic that settles in for everybody and the only way those store shelves were ever going to get filled was when the professional truck drivers brought the freight through."
Drivers struggled, especially at the height of the pandemic, to secure necessities like food.
"It was extremely hard, you had to stay to yourself, we always already are isolated but it was more protocols that we had to follow. We would pull up to docks and no one would be there, order wouldn’t get filled right, so there was a lot of things that slipped through the cracks because there wasn’t any person-to-person contact," Dewandus Johnson, a truck driver, said.
"It made it really difficult because you can’t just pull up somewhere, you’re on the highway risking your life and everything but you can’t come up to the restaurant and eat food," said truck driver, Londell Fowler.
Last year, drivers told us that truck stops staying open was a saving grace. The Nebraska Trucking Association also partnered with companies and organizations to ensure drivers had hand sanitizer, food, and masks.
Grisham said that drivers even struggled to get vaccinated when vaccines first became available.
"They’re on the road, as the vaccines were being handed down from the federal authorities to the state authorities rightfully the state authorities were saying these are for people in our state. Well, so an out-of-state driver coming through would have trouble accessing vaccines in a state he doesn’t live in," Grisham said.
Now, conditions have improved. Restrictions have loosened and vaccines are more readily available, but depending on where truckers are on their route, they still have some hardships due to the ongoing pandemic.
"We have to remember that most of these professional drivers work in interstate commerce. So what we’re experiencing here in Nebraska and what they might experience here in Nebraska is not necessarily what they’re facing in other states. We can go in a truck stop and probably be able to sit down take a break and have a nice hot meal," Grisham said. "There are a lot of states where those kinds of facilities are still closed or severely restricted so you have drivers who are still struggling with having to live pretty much full time in their tuck as they move from state to state as they get to Nebraska where it’s more open and welcoming."
Another challenge facing the industry is a lack of drivers. Grisham said many trucking companies have more freight to move than they do drivers to move it. He said that was an issue before the pandemic but it's become more apparent now after the pandemic.