Feds delivering 1 million masks for truck drivers across U.S.

Truck drivers nervous about a lack of protective gear as they move freight across the country during the coronavirus pandemic are getting relief from the federal government.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has started moving 800,000 protective masks supplied by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to inspection stations, highway patrol field offices, and other sites along interstate highways in eight states. Another 200,000 masks are being delivered directly to motor carriers to distribute to drivers.

“We have all seen the incredible efforts that the nation’s commercial drivers are making each day to deliver goods and supplies to homes, businesses, and hospitals throughout America,” commented FMCSA Acting Administrator Jim Mullen on April 29. “With the help of our state partners and the motor carrier industry, these protective masks will help truckers remain safe and healthy while they continue to maintain our nation’s supply chain.”

The agency is delivering masks to locations in Arkansas, California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, New York and Texas. Details on specific distribution points can be found here. FMCSA did not immediately comment on whether it would be expanding the number of locations or replenishing supplies.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) on April 3 urged “immediate action” from the Trump Administration to get masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) to drivers delivering freight in and out of COVID-19 hot zones. “They don’t have access to PPE or any practical means to know when they may be falling ill or any practical solution if they need treatment or self-isolation,” OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer wrote in a letter to President Trump.

Lawmakers have been calling on more coordination from the Trump administration on distributing masks and other PPE to truck drivers and other essential workers.

“Grocers, truck lines and essential manufacturers…need access to PPE and cleaning/sanitizing supplies to avoid supply chain disruptions of essential goods and ensure a safe environment for both employees and customers,” warned a group of 25 Democrats from the U.S. House of Representatives on April 14.

Concern among drivers about the lack of PPE is also supported by data collected by WorkHound. A recent survey conducted by the driver feedback platform revealed that 27% of drivers are concerned about sanitation practices and wanted to know that their companies were taking “extra precautions to ensure that their equipment is safe and sanitized.” Some asked that their companies provide PPE including masks, hand sanitizer and gloves.

The American Trucking Associations, in partnership with Protective Insurance Company, recently announced it is in the process of distributing 55-gallon drums of hand sanitizer to truck stops and rest areas in eight states – Alabama, Colorado, Indiana, Iowa, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. The hand sanitizer, produced by Hotel Tango Distillery, is being hauled by ATA’s Share the Road and Workforce Heroes tractor-trailers.

Relief efforts by government agencies and industry representatives is a needed supplement to trucking companies able to provide their own driver protections, said Melissa Stephan, Recruiting Manager for Tulsa Oklahoma-based Melton Truck Lines. “Any measures that can be taken to protect the professional truck drivers that keep America moving are good,” she told FreightWaves.

In addition to distributing masks to drivers, Stephan said her company is providing them care packages that include water, hand sanitizer and Gatorade.