Trucking Lives research project

Aiming to improve truck drivers’ working and life conditions

'Trucking Lives: Making Space for People in Truck Driving Work' is a three-year collaborative research project on truck drivers and the transformations in the road freight sector in the UK.

Led by Dr Debbie Hopkins, Associate Professor in Human Geography, the project seeks to better understand and make visible the work-lives of HGV (Heavy Goods Vehicles) drivers in the UK, with the aim to improve truck drivers’ working and life conditions.

Truck drivers and road haulage are essential to our economy and to the smooth functioning of our everyday lives. This was made evident only recently when a shortage of drivers impacted supplies at supermarkets and petrol stations. While this shortage was due to a culmination of a number of different factors, such as Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, issues still remain.

According to Debbie, ‘much of the current crisis [in the transport sector] exists because people – drivers – have been reduced to labour units of movement without understanding their complex mobile lives'.

The Trucking Lives project aims to:

  • make visible the everyday experiences of work and life amongst UK truck drivers;
  • interrogate the changes being brought about in the trucking industry; and
  • find means to improve the work and life conditions of UK truck drivers. 

The project team note that 'the government and industry push towards diversifying the HGV driver workforce in the UK is an aspect that our project is very interested in exploring. It is well established that the sector is dominated by older, white, British men. So, one of the objectives of our project is to interrogate how 'diversity' is pitched by the industry and the government, the concrete measures undertaken by them to attract a diverse workforce, and very importantly, to understand from HGV drivers belonging to these under-represented groups about their experiences of working in a sector with very little gender and ethnic diversity.'

As part of the project, the team surveyed current and former drivers, asking them to share their experiences of HGV driving and life outside of work. Dr Kaveri Medappa, Postdoctoral Researcher, states that 'as a project committed to listening to drivers' experiences and placing them at the centre of our inquiry, our survey – findings of which will be out soon – and follow-up interviews with drivers have been really useful. They expose the lived realities of HGV driving, the impact of this job on drivers' health and wellbeing, and the distance between these everyday experiences of work and life, and the perceptions harboured by the general public about HGV drivers.'

Kaveri adds that 'although HGV driving is a very lonely job with little space for interaction with fellow drivers or colleagues, we found that drivers form connections with one another on social media platforms. For instance, we found scores of Facebook groups started and administered by current or former truckers which provide space to ask questions about truck driving and its complex regulations, get advice from each other on matters of work and personal life, and to seek emotional support. And it was these Facebook groups and the support we received from the administrators of these groups which proved very useful in recruiting participants for the survey.'

As well as Oxford University, the project includes researchers from the universities of Huddersfield and Newcastle and is funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) until 2025, as part of their Transforming Working Lives research priority.

ESRC’s Interim Executive Chair, Professor Alison Park, said, 'The world of work is changing rapidly. Understanding how and why it is changing, and how this affects workers’ lives, will help policymakers, businesses and employees to navigate key challenges, including how to help people to progress in their careers and how to enhance gender equality in the workplace.'

Learn more:

Published 10 August 2023