ORLANDO, Fla. - Do you ever get frustrated when you have to run across town to run an errand? Feel like an hour in the car is just too much?
Mona VanDuyn of Auburdale, Florida laughs at that thought. She averages 3,000 miles a week behind the wheel of her 2005 Peterbuilt 379.
"When my friends say 'Oh I have to go to Miami, oh my gosh that's four hours away,' I just laugh," she said. "I have to go to Michigan, that's 22 hours away."
VanDuyn says she wouldn't have it any other way. She says the desire for financial independence first drew her to the trucking industry, the beauty and freedom of the open road has kept her there for 23 years.
"It's like a transfusion, it gets in your blood and you just want to keep doing it," she said
With bracelets on her wrists and open toe shoes on her feet, she heads west on I-4, a refrigerated warehouse at the Port of Tampa is her destination. She's pulling a trailer full of peppers, zucchini and squash freshly picked last night from a field in South Florida. Where it will end up is anyone's guess.
And so it goes, from strawberries in California to blueberries in Michigan she's crisscrossed the nation hauling produce from one coast to the other.
"When I first started there were hardly any women out here," she says, as she adjusts her fashionable sunglasses keeping the morning sun out of her eyes. "Now the companies are offering training. There's one in Dallas that's all women."
It's a sign of the times. More women then ever are entering the trucking industry and they are being welcomed like never before.
At Roadmaster Driving School in Orlando, Director Ed Mosek says it's common to have classes where enrollment is 20 percent women. He says they come from all ages and backgrounds.
"They want to get into a career where they are able to make decent money, have good benefits, build a retirement and support their families," Mosek said.
He says once they graduate, there's almost always a job waiting.
An aging workforce that's entering retirement age coupled with a recent study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety that says women truck drivers are three times less likely to get into an accident and five times less likely to be cited for safety regulations, are a few reasons why.
VanDuyn has seen the changes firsthand. She says when she first started she was often told a woman's place was in the home. Now truck stops are catering to women drivers, offering showers and bathrooms that "felt like you stepped into a mansion."
She's the first to encourage others to take her lead.
"I want to encourage them to take a step back and look at their true value as women, being out here doesn't mean that you have to give that up," she said. "I think it's impressive that women come out here and keep their girly side and their independence."
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