Trucks at Work

The negative impression

“It is a most mortifying reflection for a man to consider what he has done, compared to what he might have done.” --Samuel Johnson

I loved every minute I spent reading the controversial book “The DaVinci Code” by Dan Brown - but certainly not for its wild and almost ridiculous plot line about secret societies protecting the supposed later-day brood of Jesus. No, my love of that book comes from his use of Opus Dei - a secretive, archconservative Catholic organization - as the bad guys.

You see I attended an Opus Dei run all-boys elementary school for a few years (grades five through seven) and it was simply the worst experience of my childhood - hell, my entire life. It was a violent, mean-spirited place, and for many years I contemplated leaving the Catholic faith because of my time there. Needless to say, anytime I see Opus Dei getting whacked in the press or even in a fictional bestseller, I enjoy it immensely.

That‘s the power of negative impressions. And we‘ve all been there, too. Get treated shabbily by a dealership when buying a new vehicle or getting it serviced, for example, and not only won‘t you ever go back there again, you may never buy the brand of vehicle they sell ever again. You might share your negative experience with others, too, and warn them off of both dealer and brand.

Trying to reverse that negative impression is a huge undertaking that might never succeed. Just look at how GM and Ford have lost market share to the Japanese year after long year despite massive improvements to the design and quality of their vehicles and dealer networks (though I think they will both start to rebound over the next five years).

Trucking has its own share of negative impressions to overcome and we all know why. I‘ll share my neighbor‘s recent experience: driving home from upstate New York from a long holiday vacation with family, they were tailgated mercilessly on the Pennsylvania turnpike by a trucker doing 80 mph in heavy rain. A frightening experience, to say the least (and they called the state police to report him, a move I firmly endorse). Even though his brother is a top-notch truck driver, having that kind of day on the highway made him steam about truckers as a group - and rightly so.

I talked to Julie Cirillo once about this. The first chief administrator of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration when it was formed back in late 1999, she told me one negative experience like tailgating - something that happened to her own sister - colors people‘s overall perception of trucking for a long time. She said those kinds of negative highway experiences gave the whole industry a bad name, undoing all sorts of positive work by professional truckers.

That‘s why I think from here on out trucking as a whole needs to really refocus itself on addressing the kinds of driving habits and incidents that lead not only to such bad experiences, but cause accidents, too. The freight may be hot, but that‘s no excuse for throwing caution and good safety practices to the winds. For negative impressions last a long, long time, and they‘ll complicate industry efforts on a lot of fronts.