An honorable trade

By Jack Roberts on
Hispano-Suiza c 1914
Captain Eddie Rickenbacker in France

There was a time when being a driver was considered a highly skilled trade.

True – the automobile was brand new. And given the mysterious and cantankerous nature of cars at the time, a “driver” was typically understood to be a mechanic as well. In other words, someone so attuned into the intricacies of the machine, he could wring the most out of it both under the hood and behind the wheel.

This was such an ingrained concept 100 years ago that when America went to fight in France in World War I, General John Pershing selected Indianapolis 500 winner and racing legend Eddie Rickenbacker to be his personal driver.

It wasn’t a job Rickenbacker held long. His reputation as a driver was such that he was able to use it as his resume to get accepted to flight school in France (which was his real goal from the minute he’d joined the army). Eventually, Rickenbacker became the American Air Service’s highest scoring fighter ace in the war.

The point though, was that a century ago, a driver was recognized as a highly skilled and valued individual. Someone special. Someone who could be trusted to take new technological marvels out on the road and operate them safely and efficiently.

Of course, all that eventually changed. Cars and trucks became more commonplace, and increasingly easy to operate. As automobiles transitioned from exotic playthings to every day transportation, the mystique disappeared. And so too did the status of a driver as a person to be respected.

That’s too bad. Today, there are a multitude of “mysterious” trades out there with practitioners who are regarded as highly skilled craftsmen who command – and deserve – high pay for the jobs they do. I’m talking about plumbers, electricians, stonemasons, crane operators and any number of people who work at highly skilled professions.

And yet, that distinction doesn’t apply to truck drivers, does it?

Why is that?

When did we, as a society, transition from holding drivers in high regard to regarding them as people who drive trucks because “they can’t do anything else?”

Being a professional driver is a tough job. And I’m just talking about the responsibilities that go along with taking an 80,000-pound behemoth down the road safely day in and day out. I’m not even factoring in the cost of that equipment, the devastating costs of paying for an accident or even the value of the cargo that’s actually being hauled down the highway. Not every one can do that. Hell, most people don’t want any part of a job that entails that much responsibility day in and day out.

Maybe it’s time to change our thinking about truck drivers. Maybe it’s time to set a marker: so many accident-free miles and you’re something special. Instead of being just another truck driver, you’re recognized as a specialist. Someone who’s earned the right to be treated with a higher level of respect and a corresponding increase in pay and perks.

Some fleets already try to do this. And they should be applauded for doing so. But unless the industry as a whole grasps this concept and begins to accept and promote it – there is absolutely zero chance the rest of our society will take notice and follow suite.

Jack Roberts

Jack Roberts is executive editor for CCJ and equipment editor for its sister magazine Overdrive. Roberts joined Randall-Reilly in 1995 as associate editor of Equipment World magazine and began covering both heavy-duty and light trucks in 1996. In 2006 he was the founding editor of Total Landscape Care before joining CCJ's staff in 2008.

4 comments
bobthevolvofanboy
bobthevolvofanboy

We need young people going through driver training, to be explained to; how dangerous being in these vehicles paths can be. It's a mortal mistake, to sit in my blind spot- it could take your life in the wrong conditions.


There needs to be cooperative educational efforts, to make sure both parties know the risks of being on the road with trucks.


The interstates were built for commerce. They were truck roads before they were general travel roads.


Look at the I-5 truck bypass? Do you see many problems with it?

No; because it's all prof. drivers running it.


My 80,000 lb's trumps your 2k honda civic any day of the week. To boot; it will turn it into a ball of metal, rubber and glass if I turn this wheel a bit too hard

old lady trucker
old lady trucker

It is all in the TRAINING of the children.  My daddy was a truck driver.  He was respected for his faithfulness to the company and owner of that company.  He was by nature a mechanically minded person.  I inherited that trait, but daddy enforced the rules of respect, thinking beyond myself, and treating both the equipment and the people with care.  I became a driver because I wanted to be the same kind of person driving trucks.  I made it, it was never 'easy', the paperwork is endless, the lifestyle is real (not just a job).  No regrets, except it just did not last long enough, never thought I would outlive the driving part.

We rarely teach children any of those ideals in the media, games, and public action now.  What you teach is what you get.

ccsandsm
ccsandsm

An interesting comment I hear from truck driving school students when you try to teach them the basics of checking oil levels, tire pressures, etc. is "I came here to learn how to drive a truck, not to be a mechanic."  This shows the mindset of the newer generation entering the industry.

David McQueen
David McQueen

Very perceptive comments from Jack Roberts and indicative of the public's misperception of truck drivers.  The trucking industry (and drivers) have taken a huge amount of unwarranted criticism regarding the profession but that's par for the course in politics.  Politicians make big trucks the villain and throw regulations at them so the politicians can be seen as "doing something" about the "problem".  They make sure to get the media to play up any major truck accident (even if the trucker wasn't at fault!) and demand Congress "do something".  Never ever publicize that drivers of 4-wheelers are much more likely to be driving under the influence of drugs/alcohol or uninsured or that car/truck crashes are 3 to 1 the fault of the car, not the truck.  168 years ago, Marx and Engels thought that "class warfare" was a spiffy idea.  Trust me, it's alive and well in American politics. 



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