Mum on the road... in a 44-ton lorry
Being a delivery driver saves on childcare, says one of Britain's growing number of female truckers
Emily Dugan is social affairs correspondent for The Independent, i and Independent on Sunday. She was previously a news reporter for The Independent on Sunday. Her investigations into human trafficking have twice been awarded Best Investigative Article at the Anti-Slavery Day Media Awards and her human rights journalism was shortlisted for the Gaby Rado Memorial prize at the 2012 Amnesty Media Awards.
Sunday 05 February 2012
Lyndsey Graham is having a parallel parking nightmare at the supermarket. Her two-year-old, Dylan, is squawking from his car seat, a shaft of sunlight is dazzling her eyes and the bay she is backing into seems designed for a vehicle half the size.
The scene is a familiar one to parents around the country, only this isn't the weekly shop, and the vehicle she is trying to negotiate into the space is not a family estate car but a 45ft, 44-tonne truck.
Lyndsey is one of a growing number of female lorry drivers in Britain, and every Friday she takes her son with her as she delivers a lorry load of groceries on a 140-mile round trip from Burscough, Lancashire, to Morrisons in Bradford. Today's load is lettuce, kale and parsley from local farms.
The 25-year-old has been driving lorries for her father's haulage firm, Graham Brothers, since 2008 and parking has always been her pet hate. "When I started I thought: 'I can't reverse a Corsa so how am I going to reverse that?' I still don't like parking, but once you have a go you find you can do it."
In the past decade the number of female lorry drivers has doubled, and this week a Channel 4 documentary, Mothertruckers, will chart the experiences of Lyndsey and her fellow women drivers. "People typically think of a wagon driver as an older man with loads of stubble who has not had a wash," she says, "but there's no reason it has to be like that."
Though they are growing in number, women truckers are still in a minority, making up only 1,600 of the 300,000 truck drivers working in 2011. But with most of them male, over-50 and due to retire soon, women could solve the trade's dwindling numbers.
For single mothers like Lyndsey, the job offers a unique way to juggle work and young children. She carried on driving up until she was seven months pregnant with Dylan, having to rearrange the steering block so her bump fitted beneath the wheel. She got back in the cab with him when he was five months old. "I'll take him with me until he goes to school. It saves on childcare and I know he's safe with me."
Leaving the depot in Burscough at midday, Lyndsey pulls on a pink high-visibility vest, putting Dylan into his own miniature hi-vis vest and climbing into the lorry with her father, Barry Graham, 64. He is mostly in the office these days, but sometimes comes along to help look after Dylan.
Sitting on the bunk in the back of the cab, Barry picks up the flying crisps, shoes and water bottles catapulted from Dylan's chair while Lyndsey takes care of the driving. "I don't see a problem with women driving", he says, "they're quite capable, just like men. The job is less physical now – it used to be that everything was roped on but now you just back into a bay and open the doors."
Despite its size, Lyndsey's truck – a Volvo Globetrotter XL FH12 with a 460 horsepower engine – does not require brute strength to drive: like all modern lorries it has air brakes, power steering and two sets of specialised mirrors on either side. The driver and passenger seats have gas suspension. The sensation in the cabin is that of sitting in a comfortable control room rather than riding in the front seat of a lorry.
Half an hour into the journey, which passes through some of Lancashire and Yorkshire's most picturesque countryside, the attraction of the job becomes apparent. Dylan is drifting off to sleep, and the snow-topped hills whizz by the windows in golden late afternoon light. "I do love this job," says Lyndsey. "I love being dead high up – it's completely different to driving a car. I'd always rather drive a wagon."
After her cargo has been unloaded at Morrisons, she sets off back down the M62, with Dylan entertaining himself cooing at the coloured lights of passing lorries. A short way down the motorway she pulls over at Hartshead Moor Services. The truck stop may traditionally be a chance for a fry-up and to stock up on lads' mags, but Lyndsey has a different purpose: to change Dylan's nappy.
As she lifts Dylan out of the lorry, drivers parked on either side gawp down at her. Mark Taylor, 42, a haulier from Stockport, is having tea in the truck next door. Does he object to women in the profession? "Nah, I don't mind women," he says. "At least you can understand them. There are too many Poles and Turks over here." In the world of truck driving, it seems being female is a minority that's more readily accepted.
So is there anything that makes it harder for women to be drivers? "Needing the toilet," Lyndsey says, without hesitation. "That's the only time it would easier to be a man doing this job; they can go when they want."
Mothertruckers is on Channel 4 on Thursday 9 February at 10pm
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