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Truck drivers fear for their safety on the road - but the vast majority of them face a much bigger threat

Business Insider | Jun 13, 2018, 12.11AM IST

george wilson in driver seat

Courtesy of George Wilson

George Wilson enjoyed his truck driving job but had to quit as his health deteriorated. This picture is from 2014, "somewhere in Texas."

  • Trucking isn't just dangerous because you're out on the open road, controlling an 80,000-pound vehicle.
  • It's also hazardous because of long-term health effects that arise from sitting all day and poor food options at trucking stops.
  • While trucking is being championed as a well-paid job that doesn't require a college degree, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said truck drivers face "a constellation of chronic disease risk factors."

George Wilson misses his eight-foot-by-eight-foot home.

It had two beds, two dogs, and a little kitchen. Without a stove, he cooked hot dogs for himself and his wife in the microwave. His German Shepard Goldy, named after the Star Wars character, liked to lie on the ground.

Wilson was a long-haul truck driver for ten years and, like most truckers, he lived where he worked - in this case, in the cabin of a 50-foot truck.

But he had to leave the industry in 2016. He went from weighing less than 300 pounds to nearly 470 pounds over the course of his driving career and developed diabetes and serious breathing problems.

"It's just not healthy whatsoever, the truck driver lifestyle," Wilson told Business Insider.

Truck driving and other driving jobs have the seventh-highest work injury fatality rate in the country. In 2016, the latest year for which data is available, 660 large truck occupants died in crashes involving a large truck.

But when it comes to what's really discouraging drivers from staying in the industry, University of Pennsylvania professor Steve Viscelli, who studies labor markets and automation, pointed to the health risks involving a sedentary lifestyle and poor food availability.

"The salaries are not high enough to justify the number of hours worked and the health, family, and social consequences of this work," Viscelli told Business Insider.

trucker health

Andy Kiersz/Business Insider, CDC, NIOSH, and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration

The majority of truck drivers are obese and smoke

Long-haul truck drivers face "a constellation of chronic disease risk factors," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wrote in 2014.

Truck stops, the only places drivers can efficiently park and eat while on the road, are more likely to stock cheeseburgers and Salisbury steaks than salads or fresh fruit. Truck stops offer no gyms. One is seated for up to 11 hours a day, and there's clearly no standing desk options for truck drivers.

"The drivers like me, they want to make money. They're just sitting there driving all day long. You want the quickest, easiest food, because if the truck's not moving, you're not making money," Wilson said.

Nearly seven in 10 truck drivers were obese and 17% were morbidly obese, which is defined as 100 pounds over your ideal weight, according to CDC research. Among all working American adults, one-third are obese and 7% are morbidly obese.

"We need decent restaurants or food that is something beside stinking McDonald's or Subway and things like that," 51-year-old Steve Manley, who has been driving for more than 20 years, told Business Insider. "Trucking will leave you with a messed up back and many other problems if you are not very careful."

george wilson cooking

Courtesy of George Wilson

Florida-based former trucker George Wilson shared this photo of him making sausage and pancakes on the cooktop in his truck cabin.

Truck driving is marked with other risky health behaviors, according to the CDC study. More than half of truckers are currently cigarette smokers, compared to 19% of the general population.

And nearly two-third of long-haul drivers reported having one of the following risk factors: hypertension, obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, no physical activity, and six or fewer hours of sleep per 24‐hr period.

Wilson hasn't driven for two years, and he's happy to report he has lost more than 100 pounds.

"Thank God I'm back down to 350, but I still need to lose more," Wilson said. "I kind of have a hard time losing it."

Afflicted by sleep apnea, Wilson still needs an breathing machine to sleep and says his diabetes is "out of control."

"Truck driving really changed me and my health," Wilson told Business Insider. "It's easy to understand why the industry is going to fail."

Are you a truck driver with a story about the industry? Email the author at rpremack@businessinsider.com.

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