By Bill Graves
President and CEO
American Trucking Associations
Too often in life we dwell on the negative. I know that I’m guilty of it, and I’m sure many of you are, as well. At the end of the day, when we go home and our families ask, “How was your day?” too often the first response is the annoyances of a commute or aggravations of our jobs.
It feels like, this year in particular, too often the media have been dwelling on the negative when it comes to our industry. High-profile incidents draw a lot of attention and ultimately are used to tar not just our industry but the hardworking men and women at its heart — the American truck driver.
We now spend a lot of time throughout the year educating the public, politicians and each other about what a remarkable industry this is and what important work we do. We’ve committed to Trucking Moves America Forward, the image movement that is telling our story to millions all the time.
But beyond that, we’ve reserved one week to do a little more for that group of people that really carry the load — figuratively and literally — for all of us.
This week, Sept. 14-20, is National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, and all across the country carriers, shippers and vendors will be celebrating just how important the more than 3.2 million professional truck drivers are to our country and our economy.
In a time of increasing traffic congestion, more burdensome regulations, high fuel costs and a growing economy, America’s truck drivers are busier and more important than ever.
Consider this: Last year, almost 70% of all the freight moved in this country did so on the flatbed, in the tank or in the trailer of a truck. Seventy percent: That isn’t a typo and that’s not a boast; that’s just a fact. More than 80% of our communities, our major cities and small towns, get all their goods — from food, fuel and medicine to lumber, gasoline and televisions — via truck. There’s no store in America, none, with a rail line leading to the loading dock, which means every item on every shelf, from the smallest mom-and-pop hardware store to the biggest Wal-Mart, is delivered by truck.
The driving force (pun intended) behind all this is the American professional truck driver, who is well-trained, dedicated to safety and willing to sacrifice being away from home and family to make sure those shelves stay stocked.
They do this even as they are unjustly reviled or feared because, frankly, most of the time, if truck drivers make the news, it is not for their incredible professionalism, their dedication to safety or to highlight their essential role in our daily lives.
They do their job in the face of increasingly congested highways that delay their deliveries. They do it in the face of increasingly inflexible rules that put needless pressure on them. They do it because if they didn’t, who would?
Drivers are logging more miles (upward of 152 billion in 2012), they are hauling more freight (9.7 billion tons in 2013) and they are being safer than ever while doing it (truck crashes are down 27% over the past decade).
For that reason, we need to appreciate them more — not just this week but especially this week.
How can we do that?
There’s something that everyone can do to appreciate the truck drivers they see: Show them respect and deference on the road. See trucks on the highway? Give them the space they need. Slow down. Don’t crowd into their blind spots or cut them off. Yes, that’s common courtesy, but it is also good for safety.
Beyond that: Fleets, show your drivers how much you value their effort. Recognize them for their hard work with such things as simple signage or a cookout to show them you appreciate what they do to keep America’s economy — and your company — moving.
Shippers, thank the drivers pulling up to your docks for getting your freight there safely and efficiently. Be respectful of their time and effort in doing so. Show you understand what the driver did to get that load where it needed to go.
And to our friends in the enforcement community, treat the drivers you encounter as partners in safety, not adversaries. They want the highways — their workplace — to be as safe as possible.
Across the country, our state associations, their members, ATA members, shippers, truck stops and many, many other businesses will be helping to dwell on the positive: the amazing job our professional truck drivers do moving America’s goods.
We are proud of our drivers, and we believe their good work should be highlighted 52 weeks a year, not just this week that is dedicated to appreciating them.