Trucking moves 71% of the freight in the United States. And if it were to suddenly cease, the effects would be more drastic than you might expect.
In May 2018, truck drivers in Brazil went on strike for a week, and it “paralysed” the country in unexpected ways. As gas stations ran out of fuel, for instance, public transit halted.
“Without trucking, we would be naked, starving, and homeless,” Mike Robbins, a longtime trucker and leader of trucker strike group Black Smoke Matters, told Business Insider.
A study by the American Trucking Associations outlined what would happen if truckers were to stop working. The effects would hit hospitals, gas stations, ATMs, grocery stores, and even your garbage can.
And, of course, your Amazon Prime packages would be delayed.
Within the first day
Basic medical supplies, like syringes and catheters, would be at risk of running out. Medication for cancer patients that use radiopharmacuticals, which only have a life span of a few hours, would expire.
During the 2018 truck strike in Brazil, a lack of medical supplies was a key choke point for the country. Government security forces escorted trucks with supplies to hospitals and doubled fines against striking truckers who were carrying medical cargo.
Mail and package delivery could stop. (On the other hand, most UPS and FedEx delivery drivers are unionized, so it’s less likely that we would see last-mile service from those major providers suddenly stop should other truckers strike.)
Gas stations and grocery stores would start to run out of supplies. The ATA wrote that reports of a trucker work stoppage would stir up consumer panic, not unlike when hurricanes or other natural disasters lead to folks emptying grocery stores.
“News of a truck stoppage – whether on the local level, state or regional level, or nationwide – will spur hoarding and drastic increases in consumer purchases of essential goods,” according to the report. “Shortages will materialise quickly and could lead to civil unrest.”
Further up the supply chain, manufacturing delays would become rampant. Computer and auto manufacturers, for instance, build their goods as components are received throughout the day. Within just a few hours, a lack of truck deliveries of those components would “incur significant disruption costs and thousands of employees will be put out of work.”
Within two to three days
In 1974, truckers went on strike in the US for as long as three days in some areas. Around 100,000 truckers were laid off, and the National Guard was called in Ohio to deploy tear gas and forcibly remove trucks from blocking the highways.
That strike also led to food shortages nationwide. The ATA said in its report that, with a strike as long as three days, essentials like bottled water, powdered milk, and canned foods would be gone.
The consumer panic that developed during the first day of the strike would mushroom.
ATMs would be cashless. Gas stations would run out of fuel. And garbage would begin piling up in urban and suburban zones rather than going to a landfill.
“Uncollected and deteriorating waste products create rich breeding grounds for microorganisms, insects, and other vermin,” the ATA wrote. “Hazardous materials and medical waste will introduce toxins as well as infectious diseases into living environments.”
And goods that are shipped over from Asia would stay in container ports on the West Coast.
Within a week or more
An uncomfortable situation would become dire should truckers stop working for more than a week.
Without truckers transporting fuel, most people and businesses would run out of gas. Most forms of transportation would no longer function – even aeroplanes would remain grounded, as trucks deliver 80% of the fuel used by the nation’s airports.
“Without access to automobile travel, people will be unable to get to work causing labour shortages and increased economic damage,” the ATA wrote. “Without cars, many people cannot access grocery stores, banks, doctors, and other daily needs.”
Hospitals would begin to exhaust oxygen supplies by seven to 10 days into the work stoppage.
Most alarmingly, America’s supplies of clean drinking water would run dry in as little as two weeks. As the ATA wrote:
On average, trucks deliver purification chemicals to water supply plants every seven to 14 days. Without these chemicals, water cannot be purified and made safe for drinking. Without truck deliveries of purification chemicals, water supply plants will run out of drinkable water in 14 to 28 days.
Are you a truck driver with a story about the industry? Email the reporter at [email protected].
Read the full report from the American Trucking Associations here.
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