A good impression

Nov. 10, 2014
Despite the headlines, people like trucking

Whether it’s morning traffic reports, accident videos on the evening news, or ominous threats in movie thrillers, trucks are often portrayed as the bad guys in the media.  And, fairly or not, trucks seem to be routinely blamed by the auto-driving public for air pollution, traffic congestion, dangerous highways, and just about any ill connected to motor vehicles. 

So I was more than a little surprised by the results of a new opinion poll. Maybe I was just being defensive when it came to an industry I’ve been so closely involved with for so long, but it appears I’ve been selling the American public short.  It turns out people overwhelmingly believe truck drivers are the safest drivers on the road, and the large majority have a favorable impression of trucking, according to that poll.

Before you dismiss it as just another slapdash quickie done to capture headlines and web traffic, I should tell you this particular poll was conducted by Neil Newhouse and Public Opinion Strategies, a polling firm well-known for its work with Republican presidential and other national candidates.  The fact that the survey was conducted for the American Trucking Assns. and that Newhouse has been described by the group as “a good friend” of ATA head and former Republican Gov. Bill Graves might raise some questions about its objectivity, but the strength of the results outweigh those reservations, at least in my mind.

For example, 65% of the 800 “likely voters” who responded to the telephone survey said they had “a favorable impression” of trucking, while only 9% said they had an unfavorable opinion. Strangely, 3% said they’d never heard of trucking.  By comparison, rail scored 61% favorable, 8% unfavorable with over a quarter of respondents having no opinion on that industry. And, yes, 3% said they’d never heard of the rail industry. Maybe it was the same 3% representing hermits who never leave their house.

Favorable impression is nice, but it was public opinion on a variety of safety-related issues that I found most encouraging.  Asked to rank trucking’s overall safety record, 57% said it was excellent or good, 31% rated it fair, and only 5% said it was poor.  When it comes to personal experience with unsafe driving, 91% pointed the finger at passenger car drivers, and only 7% said truck drivers were more likely to be the ones tailgating, driving aggressively, or making unsafe lane changes.  The numbers were almost identical when it came to speeding, and 74% said passenger vehicle drivers were more likely responsible in car/truck collisions.  Overall, 80% believe truck drivers are safer than those driving cars on our highways.

Other interesting results:  71% believe our highways and bridges are only in fair to poor shape, and just under half (48%) support higher spending on improving them.  It’s a different story, though, when it comes to funding that investment.  Whether it’s tolling highways, doubling vehicle registration fees, raising the federal fuel tax, or adding a 1% surcharge to the federal income tax, the general public doesn’t want to pay more, opposing all of those revenue proposals by 62% to 76%.

One final takeaway for those who still oppose electric logging devices, a whopping 86% favor technology ensuring that drivers weren’t on the road for too many hours as the best thing trucking could do to improve its public image.

Whether you agree with the findings or not, it’s good to know what people are thinking about you.  As Newhouse told ATA members, “The truth is what the people believe.”

About the Author

Jim Mele

Nationally recognized journalist, author and editor, Jim Mele joined Fleet Owner in 1986 with over a dozen years’ experience covering transportation as a newspaper reporter and magazine staff writer. Fleet Owner Magazine has won over 45 national editorial awards since his appointment as editor-in-chief in 1999.

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