IN THE DRIVING SEAT
In this article Lucy McDonald looks into the world of women lorry drivers.
Think of long-distance lorry driving and the images that spring to mind are of burger
stands in lay-bys, Yorkie bars and hairy male drivers. But next time you are on the
motorway, take a second look at who is behind the wheel of that juggernaut in the slow
lane. You may be surprised.
Once a rare sight on British roads, women lorry drivers are increasing in number. Better
technology has made the driving easier and, along with female-friendly policies from
companies, is helping to erode what was once the sole preserve of men.
According to industry experts, demand for qualified drivers currently outstrips supply
and there is a deficit of up to 80,000. Although drivers say that the recession means
there is less work, attracting more women to the job could solve a potential long-term
recruitment problem. And more professional women are finding the prospect of life on
the road appealing.
Kaz Horrocks is a long-distance lorry driver. “I was bored in my old job,” she says, “and
I enjoy the solitude of driving. Every day is different—sometimes I see amazing sunsets
and lambs playing in the fields. I love it when you see the year’s first hawthorn blossom
and know that spring is near.”
Neither hawthorn nor lambs are in evidence when I meet Kaz at six o’clock one dismal
June morning in a lorry park. About 100 lorries have overnighted here. They are in
lines, slumbering giants on the asphalt, their cab curtains drawn tightly as the drivers
As much as 99 per cent of Britain’s freight is delivered by road, so next time you are
stuck behind a lorry remember that without this workforce there would be no food on
the table. This morning Kaz is taking me to deliver frozen meat. Inside her 40-tonne
lorry, the cab is almost militarily neat with bunk beds, lots of ingenious storage and a
We sail around the M25 with a mighty view for miles ahead. “Chelsea tractors” have
nothing on us—the windscreen is almost cinematic in its scope. Radio 2 is burbling in
the background as we glide along. I am just a tourist, of course—for full-time female
truckers the reality of work has its downsides, too. Until recently many truck stops had
only male loos, and sleeping overnight in the cab alone would deter many women.
“I’ve never felt unsafe, though,” says Kaz. “There is a certain amount of curiosity from
the men about why I’m driving a truck instead of working at a desk but, apart from the
occasional snide remark, most of the guys are really friendly.”
The lifestyle is solitary by nature, but even more so for women. “There is a male
camaraderie that I am excluded from,” Kaz says. “It takes a particular kind of woman to
drive a truck. It isn’t something that a supermodel is going to do—you have to be a
Personally, I enjoy the open road. I feel free when I’m alone in the car, driving far away
with nothing for company but my CD collection and talk radio. The journey appeals
more than the destination: no bickering children or phone calls, nothing that must be
dealt with. And how much more glorious that detachment would feel if you were 6 ft
above other road users . . .
The only way to test this happy vision against the other realities that Kaz describes—
traffic jams, tight deadlines, aggressive drivers and machismo—is to hit the road myself,
although as someone who failed her driving test four times years ago I approach the
challenge of HGV training with no little trepidation.
The HGV training normally takes five days, but my instructor has just a morning to
show me the rudiments. I climb the ladder into a shiny 17-tonne lorry and feel a shiver
as I turn on the ignition. The roar as its engine awakens sends vibrations through my
whole body. The lorry is 27 ft (8
2 m) long and 12 ft 6 in (3
8 m) high. My little car
would fit quite comfortably in its cabin—possibly twice over. It has 350 horsepower (I
am not really sure what this means but it certainly sounds impressive). There are eight
gears and no dual control, which does not seem to worry my instructor in the slightest,
even when I reveal my chequered driving-test record.
I thrust the giant gearstick into first and ease my foot tentatively off the clutch. In
principle it is just like in a car, but in practice the difficulty of everything required—
effort, concentration, even aim—has been multiplied many times. I start moving and,
for the first time in 20 years, remember why I never go on rollercoasters. The
excitement is tremendous but so is the fear of something so powerful. I am not only in
the grip of a monster but, supposedly, in control of it.
Within 30 minutes I am soaring around the training ground, doing nifty turns and even
managing to reverse into a tight parking space. “Despite all the jokes, women are far
better drivers than men,” my instructor says. “That’s why they are cheaper to insure.
It’s because they can multi-task. I know it’s a cliché but it’s true. They are better
pupils, too—they don’t think they know it all as soon as they sit behind the wheel.”
The national pass rate for the HGV test is 34 per cent, and although there are no gender-
specific statistics available he reckons that the pass rate for women is more like 70 per
cent. Improved technology, in particular power steering, has made it easier for women
to drive such large vehicles.
Yet the driving itself is only one battle in the war to win female hearts and minds—and
the easiest. The industry has been male-dominated for so long that life on the road can
still be difficult for women, even though equal opportunities legislation has helped.
Adapted from an article by Lucy McDonald in
Look at lines 1–7 and then explain
in your own words as far as possible
we “may be surprised” nowadays when on a motorway.
Look at lines 8–12, and then explain fully
in your own words
“recruitment problem” (line 11) is.
Look at lines 13– 16, and then explain why what Kaz says helps to make clear why
she prefers lorry-driving to her old job.
Explain why the sentence in lines 17–18 works well as a link between paragraphs.
Look at the sentence in lines 21–23, and then explain how any feature of this
sentence helps to get across the writer’s argument.
Your answer may concentrate on
or on any other feature such as
Comment on the effectiveness of the expression “militarily neat” (line 24) as an
Look at the lines 26–30.
) Explain the writer’s use of inverted commas round the expression “Chelsea
tractors” (line 26).
) Explain the appropriateness of “burbling” in line 27.
) Explain why the writer calls herself “just a tourist” (line 28).
In line 31, Kaz Horrocks says that she has “never felt unsafe”.
in your own words
why this is the case.
We read in line 34 that “The lifestyle is solitary by nature, but even more so for
in your own words
why this is so.
In line 38, the writer tells us that she feels “free” on the open road.
Write down the expression from later in the paragraph that sums up her feeling
about the experience of driving.
Why does the writer use dashes in lines 43–44?
Look at lines 43–54, and then explain what the writer means when she refers to
her “chequered driving-test record” (line 54).
Look at lines 55–60.
in the writer’s word choice.
Look at lines 61–62, and then show how
example of the writer’s
illustrates a point about how her driving improved.
The driving instructor claims that women “are better pupils” (lines 64–65).
What piece of evidence in the
paragraph goes some way towards proving his
Think about the passage
as a whole
Explain with reference to the text which of these you think is the main purpose of
) to entertain and inform;
) to argue or persuade.
Close Reading Text—Article is adapted from “No life for a girl? Get out of the slow lane…”
by Lucy McDonald, taken from
The Times, 11th June 2009
© The Times, June 2009.
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