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Edawn Coughman explains how COVID-19 has impacted the trucking industry

12th January 2021 Print

A Short Rundown of Some of the Ways the Pandemic Has Changed the Commercial Freight Business

Commercial freight trucks are, by far, the most common method of shipping physical goods throughout the United States. Even before the term gained newfound popularity this year, the trucking industry has long been one of this nation’s most essential services. So, when, in mid-March of 2020, it became more and more evident that the arrival of COVID-19 was the broad-sweeping event that we now know it to be, the long-haul commercial freight industry had to mobilize an appropriate response. There was no alternative. The more trucks and drivers the pandemic removed from the road, the more supply shortages there would be—in many cases, supplies like medical equipment, cleaning agents, and hand sanitizers that were crucial to the pandemic relief campaign. If commercial freight withered, then so would the towns and cities of America. Edawn Coughman - an entrepreneur who owns and operates a successful   long-haul commercial trucking business discusses how the pandemic has impacted the trucking industry.

Safety Protocols

"Strict new safety protocols were implemented industry-wide" states Coughman. Some of the new measures that applied to long-haul freight drivers, such as self-monitoring, daily temperature checks, and social distancing, might have been applied to employees in any type of workplace. Other measures, such as contactless pickup and drop-off procedures for cargo loads, or new rules for truck cab cleanliness, were industry specific. These measures are all still in place, alongside a renewed emphasis placed on masks and face coverings. 

Government Response

The government, for its part, relaxed some laws applying to truckers in order to ensure that fleets did not find themselves short handed. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued an emergency declaration in March, quickly followed by an extended and expanded emergency declaration in April, detailing, among other things, that drivers directly engaged in pandemic relief efforts can ignore certain government rules regarding their hours of service. Some of these include the so-called ’30 minute rule’, wherein a driver is obligated to take a half hour break after eight consecutive hours on the road, and the so-called ’34 hour restart rule’, wherein a driver who has maxed out their time behind the wheel for a given week (70 hours in eight days or 60 hours in seven days) can only start working after a resting period of 34 straight hours. Mandatory medical training programs for drivers were also waved, as were certain aspects of vehicle maintenance. These declarations are still in effect, but with a small amendment added in December that deals with the transportation of COVID-19 vaccines.

The Economic Dimension

As spring progressed, and small, geographically isolated outbreaks of the virus turned into bona fide epidemics leading to shelter-in-place orders in some major cities, a new dimension entered the trucking industry’s calculus of the pandemic: that of economics. With only a handful of businesses allowed to operate in places as consequential as New York City, consumer demand for a wide assortment of non-essential goods tanked virtually overnight, while, simultaneously, demand for paper products, non-perishable food items, and host of other emergency staples skyrocketed. This effect was soon broadened and amplified as, not long after, entire states declared lockdowns, with California being the first. These developments quickly trickled down to commercial trucking companies who, depending on their customer affiliations and usual freight cargo, found the call for their services either suddenly and massively increased, or all but gone. Unfortunately, at that point, the former was more the exception and the latter was more the rule. According to a report released in May of 2020, the trucking industry lost more than 88,000 jobs nationwide in the month of April alone. 

Industry Rebound

Happily, though, as the new year approaches, those terrible trends have seemingly reversed themselves. According to Edawn Coughman, "Consumer demand has been almost fully revived, bolstered by record-setting online sales and a newfound boom in shipping". In most of the country shelter-in-place orders are a thing of the past, meaning previously-shuttered businesses have reopened and are ordering huge quantities of inventory requiring pickup and delivery. Truck drivers are going back to work. Transportation sector employment numbers, although not quite back to their pre-pandemic levels, are evening out. Now that health officials have learned more about the virus and governments have signaled they will only re-introduce lockdowns as a last resort, the economics of the commercial freight industry are stabilizing. Put simply, the trucking industry is back on track. And with at least three viable vaccines on the immediate horizon, it is conceivable that it will not be very long until it matches the growth rate it posted through 2019 and into the early stages of 2020, before the scourge of COVID-19.

The pandemic and its accompanying economic ups and downs have impacted the trucking industry in a number of meaningful ways, and likely will for the foreseeable future. Some of the changes, arguably, are positive, like the institution of meticulous new hygiene procedures and contactless pickups and drop-offs of cargo. Other changes, like the roll-back of government regulations vis-a-vis vehicle maintenance and driver rest periods might end up being more of a mixed bag, in the end. Come what may, though, the trucking industry will endure and thrive. After all, it is the lifeblood of America.

Edawn Coughman is a professional American football player who plays the position of offensive tackle. After graduating from Tri-Cities High School in East Point, Georgia, Edawn was accepted to Dodge City Community College in Dodge City, Kansas, where he began his college football career. After a while, he transferred to Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina where he played for the Shaw Bears from 2008-2010, earning First Team All Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) honors two years running. In 2009, he was named a Division II All-American by the Heritage Sport Radio Network (HSRN), and given an Honorable Mention as a Black College Football All-American by and the Black Athlete Sports Network (BASN). The following year, Edawn was awarded a place on the Third Team of the Don Hansen NCAA Division II All-Super Region I team, a spot on the Historically Black Universities and Colleges (HBUC) Bowl team, as well as recognition as CIAA Offensive Lineman of the Week on three separate occasions. In 2010, the Shaw Bears won the CIAA Championship.

After college, Edawn Coughman ventured into to the world of professional football, first playing with the Toronto Argonauts of the Canadian Football League (CFL), before being signed to a slew of National Football League (NFL) teams, including the Seattle Seahawks, Dallas Cowboys, Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Washington Redskins, and Houston Texans. He is currently a free agent.

In his time away from football, Edawn Coughman is an entrepreneur who owns and operates a successful   long-haul commercial trucking business. He also lends his unique expertise to coaching and mentoring amateur athletes who demonstrate the potential to break through to the professional leagues.