This Opinion piece appears in the Sept. 12 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.
By Chris Spear
President & CEO
American Trucking Associations
One thing we’ll start to hear more about in the coming months is the next administration’s first 100 days in the Oval Office. It’s an opportunity to articulate a vision and begin executing new goals. As ATA’s new president and CEO, I’m nearing the end of my first hundred days in office and it has been an exciting time for me and our leadership team. There have been meetings to take and calls to make and all that goes into starting a new job, but we’ve hit the ground running to start securing victories for the trucking industry.
Speaking of victories, in August, I had the privilege of attending our National Truck Driving Championships and Step Van Driving Championships in Indianapolis for the first time, and it was an experience I’ll always remember — and one I’d encourage you to have at some point. I can honestly say that during my short time at the helm of ATA, the drivers who sit behind the wheel of our industry’s trucks and move our economy every day have impressed me more than anything.
The competing drivers — all of them champions from their state — sport clean driving records and a deep knowledge of and appreciation for the job they do. They know what they do — delivering food, fuel, medicine and other essentials every day — is important not just to their company or their customer, but to the country.
I got to spend time with these drivers in their dens, the areas where competitors prepare to tackle the course, and was consistently impressed with their dedication to this industry. But more than that, I was impressed because these drivers represent just a tiny fraction of the millions of drivers who carry out our industry’s mission every day.
I don’t think those drivers get the respect and appreciation they deserve. In fact, I know they do not. They’re disrespected by fellow motorists who weave in and out and around them on the highways, creating unnecessary opportunities for accidents. They’re blamed by the media and by anti-truck groups in our nation’s capital for thousands of accidents each year when study after study shows that the vast majority of accidents involving a large truck aren’t the fault of the professional driver.
They’re told trucks are scary and unsafe — when for decades, our industry has gotten safer, due in no small part to their efforts. All told, it can be a thankless, but critical job, our drivers do. If our industry’s opponents could shake the hands of the 430 drivers who competed in Indianapolis, like I did, I am certain that these relentless attacks on our drivers’ character and abilities would cease.
That is why this week — National Truck Driver Appreciation Week — is so important. It is one week out of the year where we as an industry can step forward to thank the 3.5 million men and women who we are proud to call professional truck drivers for the work they do:
• For delivering water and food to disaster-stricken areas such as Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
• For getting books and pencils to the store so our children can be prepared to go back to school.
• For delivering the gasoline that powers our cars and the medicines that keep us healthy.
• For their work with organizations such as Truckers Against Trafficking or Trucker Buddy International to make our country a safer and happier place.
For all that they do to keep our industry and economy moving we say, “Thank you.”
However, one week isn’t enough to show the appreciation we have for their efforts. Our drivers deserve more than that. They deserve to have their contributions to our economy and our standard of living valued not just by those of us on the inside, but by everybody — from politicians and regulators to their fellow motorists.
Our drivers moved more than 10 billion tons of goods last year. To put that in perspective, that’s about 31 tons of freight for every man, woman and child in the United States. Thirty-one tons of clothes, food, cars, tires, medicine, bricks, lumber, steel, gasoline and the list goes on and on and on.
It is almost impossible to overstate the importance of America’s truck drivers, yet we see their hard work denigrated time and time again, and I believe it is time to say “Enough.”
So this week, we show our appreciation for our drivers with cookouts and giveaways and other celebrations of their talents and dedication as we do every year for National Truck Driver Appreciation Week.
But we also commit ourselves to doing more for our drivers every week — such as pushing back against individuals who malign their professionalism and disrespect the important job they do. That’s how we can make sure that while we are honoring our drivers this week, we are working to get them the respect and the esteem they have earned as dedicated professionals. Professionals who are committed to moving America forward safely and efficiently so that when consumers go to the store or workers arrive at the factory, the items they need are there waiting for them.
It takes a special kind of person to drive a truck — the kind of people I met in Indianapolis and that I’ve met in my few weeks as ATA president. Dedicated, hardworking, faithful — qualities my wife and I hope our four kids embrace as they soon enter the workforce. I’m proud of these men and women. I hope you’re proud of them, too. But more importantly, I hope that they take pride in what they do and they feel the appreciation of a grateful industry and country not just this week, but every week.
American Trucking Associations, the largest national trade federation in the trucking industry, has headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and affiliated associations in every state. ATA owns Transport Topics.