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When your company has been in business for 85 years — and when you’ve been involved in the day-to-day operations of the company for 66 of those years — people often ask for advice on how to make a difference. One lesson we’ve learned here at Dart during our 8½ decades in trucking is that when the laws governing the business inevitably change, those who show up and speak up can help bring change for the better.
Lawmakers want to hear from you. They want to know your story, and the stories of your employees. They want to know what’s working in the real world and what isn’t. Get to know your congressional representatives. Reach out to your local lawmakers. Invite them to your facilities. Introduce them to your drivers, owner-operators and technicians. When lawmakers interact face to face with you and your team members, you develop positive working relationships, and you show lawmakers how the work they do directly impacts people and businesses every day. Voice your concerns, and more importantly, voice your proposed solutions.
Your state trucking association, American Trucking Associations, Truckload Carriers Association and other industry groups have a variety of opportunities for you to get involved in positively impacting policy and furthering the image of the industry. Dedicate time and energy to thinking about ways rules can be improved — not just for your own company’s purposes, but for the benefit of all stakeholders.
Remember that rulemaking and lawmaking proceedings are processes, they are not singular events. Take the time to educate lawmakers. Look for common ground, and become a trusted resource for honest feedback for them. When you have these opportunities with lawmakers, take the time to educate them about the challenges you are facing. Explain to lawmakers how your ideas benefit all stakeholders — drivers, owner-operators, employees, technicians, shippers, the public and policymakers. Over time, changes do happen, and your commitment to being involved in the process will help make those changes positive for the industry.
Carriers across the country likely share many of the same frustrations about inconsistent rule enforcement, and rules that couldn’t be met because of the realities of the everyday world. Changes in state or federal policies could make business much more efficient for shippers, for carriers and for drivers, and you can work together to develop model language that lawmakers could use to make life better for all stakeholders.
Lawmakers have very difficult jobs. We have to do our part to make their lives easier, and having model language ready to go is a great way to help. Messages resonate with policymakers when stakeholders demonstrate that they are advocates for practical, fair rules. Getting involved by investing the time and making your voice heard on the issues of the day does make a difference.
Reflecting on Dart’s history, I remember going state to state in the early 1980s as part of a coalition explaining the reasoning and the benefits for extending trailer length beyond what was the 48-foot standard at the time. A large part of those efforts involved talking to legislators, governors, shippers and safety advocates to legalize 53-foot trailers on our nation’s highways. Those rules didn’t just happen. They happened because the carriers that were a part of an industry committee made the time, took the proper steps and spoke up. We not only sold the obvious advantages of increased capacity for light and bulky freight, but also the safety and green benefits of fewer trucks on the road. And we didn’t come to the table with just a complaint. We came with a solution. We had that model legislation ready to go.
To be a voice of change in our industry, you have to take the time to speak up and take action. If you only complain about rules in your own conference room, no one hears you, and nothing changes.
At the end of the day, trucking is a people business. Over the past 85 years, we have grown to appreciate the important role inspired people can play in an industry that is continually changing. Whether it was running the company out of our house in the early days or seeing my sons lead our engagement efforts with lawmakers and key stakeholders on the latest issues of the day, I have witnessed through the years how connecting with people makes a difference. Our industry is at its best when people answer the call to action. It takes time and repetition, but your voice will be heard. Take that lesson from 85 years of experience in the industry.
Donald G. Oren is chairman of Dart Transit Co., one of the nation’s oldest and largest family-owned trucking companies. He has served the industry in roles including past director of the Truckload Carriers Association and Minnesota Trucking Association and vice president at large of American Trucking Associations.
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