Drivers high on TCA agenda

Although the Truckload Carriers Assn. (TCA) convention this spring was called, “Built on Heritage,” it is the future of trucking that dominates the discussion every day at TCA

Although the Truckload Carriers Assn. (TCA) convention this spring was called, “Built on Heritage,” it is the future of trucking that dominates the discussion every day at TCA, particularly all issues concerning drivers

Jim O’Neal, TCA chairman for 2007 and president of O&S Trucking, Inc. has pledged to address the chronic image problems that have beset trucking for the past several years. He does not, however, believe the solution is easy or obvious.

“There is no question that other motorists today tend to have a negative image of trucks and truckers,” O’Neal observed. “When a truck passes them on the road, they feel afraid. When a jury deliberates on a case involving a truck, they often seem to feel a need to ‘pay trucking back’ for all the bad things it does. Somehow we have to change this fear to faith.

“The public should feel like the truck driver is probably the safest one on the road,” O’Neal continued. “We know that safe truck operators are by far the rule, not the exception, but there is no question that public perception drives public policy.

“None of the transportation players anywhere in the country-- not AAA, not the government, no one—has done as much as our own industry to improve highway safety. However, we have still allowed the sensationalism around certain incidents to let others steal the issue from us,” he noted. “Highway safety is our issue. We are accountable and we know better than anybody else what needs to be done and how to do it. That is what we have to make clear.”

Although O’Neal is not certain how to turn public perception of the industry positive, he said it is important to tackle the public’s negative perceptions. Truck drivers can be a factor in reassuring the public, for example.

“There has been some good blue-sky thinking about this subject, but we don’t want to launch another multi-million dollar image campaign,” O’Neal said. “That is not what will solve the problem.”

Immediate past TCA chairman Barry Pottle, president & CEO of Pottle’s Transportation, agreed. “Our customers need to be more involved, too. They need to show drivers more respect again,” he added. “Some customers treat drivers very well already, of course, but I’d like to see that more consistently across the shipper/receiver community.”

“Now that we are entering a softer economic environment, we will have the opportunity to see just how committed we all are to providing a consistent, livable wage for our drivers,” stated O’Neal.

“We have to know what is going on with our drivers, too. Is he or she happy? What is going on at home?” he noted. “We started working with Marketplace Chaplains a while ago. They provide visits and counseling to drivers who request it. You would be surprised at how many drivers and their families use the service. We’ve also got to make sure that people inside our walls respect and understand what drivers are going through.”

Safety is a significant side benefit for trucking companies to draw down turnover. The first 90 days for a new driver are the most dangerous and “if you have 140% turnover, then all your drivers are new. As fleet owners and managers, we don’t have to just accept the high turnover and the accidents that go with it,” stated O’Neal

Pottle said that the key is to offer drivers a guaranteed, predictable wage regardless of what happens to drivers on road. “For the past two or three years, that is what we have been doing at our company and our driver turnover is down to 26%.”

For the past few years, TCA has focused more on education and best practices than it has on developing policy. That, however, may also be changing going forward, according to Chris Burruss, president of TCA.

“Now some of our members would like the organization to reinsert itself back into the policy development process where the truckload community has interests at stake,” Burruss said.

“One way to do that is to work even more closely with ATA and the state trucking associations to provide input to them on issues of concern to truckload carriers,” Burruss explained. “State associations are often overlooked, but they are very important in bringing about change at the state and national levels.”

To comment on this article, write to Wendy Leavitt at [email protected]

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