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TravelCenters of America Joins ACE Doran Hauling and Rigging Co. for Ride Along Focused on Women’s Safety

WESTLAKE, OH – With the goal of gaining insight into the challenges women truck drivers face, Debbie Shelton, a vice president of TravelCenters of America, spent a few days on the road with Violet Helferich, a professional woman truck driver. Violet works from ACE Doran Hauling & Rigging Co., a division of the Bennett Family of Companies, and drives a heavy haul 18-wheeler. Debbie’s ultimate goal was to understand what more TA can do to improve safety and the overall customer experience for women at TA locations.

Debbie’s experience was eye-opening in some respects and business as usual in others. “I tried to go into this experience with a clear mind and fresh eye,” said Debbie. “Sometimes, when we are working at our sites, day in and day out, we miss small things because they become part of the scenery.”

Debbie was impressed by life on the road and what the industry can do to improve conditions for women that would ultimately impact all professional drivers.

Among Debbie’s observations was the amount of time drivers must wait for something. That could be waiting for their loads, for weather to clear, for maintenance on their trucks or for their driving curfew hours to be lifted. With so much out of a driver’s control, Debbie recognized the importance of maintaining a sense of urgency and empathy for drivers. “There’s no telling what they have experienced by the time they get to us,” she said.

During the road trip, Violet, a 22-year veteran of the industry, was hauling an oversized load and was provided an all-female escort crew to ensure safe passage along the roadways.

“It’s stressful watching cars cutting off the escort,” said Debbie. Debbie could see how critical it is that parking lots have room for trucks to maneuver easily and that there is plenty of lighting and signage. “Pulling into any lot can be a challenge with a load like that,” said Debbie. “And at night, drivers generally turn off their headlights when entering or leaving a lot as a courtesy for drivers trying to rest. Having plenty of light helps with security and navigating lots at night.”

AT TA, there are over 51,000 truck parking spaces available 24/7, nationwide. By the end of 2024, TA will have reengineered and updated all lots based on a safety traffic management plan, to include re-striping and new signage. A lighting survey of all locations is also underway to help identify those sites that need to be upgraded. So far, TA has assessed 50 sites and made the determination to upgrade the lighting at 18 locations this year.

And when nature calls, it’s not as simple for women. A safe and clean restroom is a must, along with a fully stocked store with products that support a woman’s basic needs.

After her first full day with Violet, Debbie was exhausted and could only think of how significant travel center amenities are for a driver. “It’s so important for drivers to be able to relax and reenergize for their next day on the road; to have a safe space where they can have a variety of healthy food options, do their laundry, shower, walk and stretch their legs and even have a place for their pets to roam.”

Debbie reflected on TA’s anthem to offer a safe, clean and friendly place for drivers to refresh, refuel and repair. “Those are not just words. They are the ideals that we strive for to care for our guests. We are truly committed to ensuring drivers have a home on the road.”

Though Debbie’s experience was cut short by a few days due to a load cancelation, she gathered plenty of insight from Violet. “It was great having Debbie take the time to see what life on the road is like and how it could be better,” said Violet.

Debbie is now sharing her findings with TA’s Women Safety Advisory Panel, which was formed earlier this year to address the unique safety considerations for women professional drivers. The panel is comprised of professional drivers and members of the trucking industry.

“We believe by making our sites safer for women professional drivers, we’ll make them safer for everyone,” said Debi Boffa, TA CEO. “We are grateful to Violet and the Bennet Family of Companies for the opportunity to have one of our own experience life on the road and identify opportunities we can explore to make their experience safer and better at TA.”