Where the rubber meets the road

A couple of months ago, the American Trucking Associations launched a snazzy new image campaign based on the slogan “Good Stuff – Trucks Bring It.” The graphics are crisp and eye-catching, and the message is appropriately aimed right at the materialistic sentiment of the American public. Indeed, one element of the effort is to outfit trailers with images of consumer goods that appeal especially to the youth. That’s smart. The industry must focus on the young; it can’t depend on wooing the hearts and minds of the metropolitan commuter, the most vocal of the big truck haters.

The “Good Stuff” campaign is a fine effort, and there’s nothing really wrong with it. Changing the public image of trucking is an enormous challenge, but ATA and others supporting the campaign are right in thinking that they must make the effort. But just last month, ATA announced another major initiative that likely could have a far greater impact on public opinion.

Two years ago, the ATA-led Trucking Security and Anti-Terrorism Working Group drafted the trucking industry’s Anti-Terrorism Action Plan (ATAP). The cornerstone of ATAP was to expand the already-existing Highway Watch program into an extension of U.S. homeland security efforts. ATAP envisioned $20 million in federal funding to establish an Informational Sharing and Analysis Center for the trucking industry. Months later, Congress appropriated the money, but for various reasons most of those funds were held up.

In March, ATA signed an agreement with the Transportation Security Administration to spend $19.3 million to train 400,000 transportation professionals under an expanded Highway Watch program. ATA, through state trucking associations, already has been training truck drivers and others for some time. The now-released funds will support a larger Highway Watch call-in center that can handle an increasing volume of calls and also coordinate state Amber Alert missing children programs with Highway Watch.

ATA’s admirable shoestring initiative is now about to hit the big time. Truck drivers and other professionals directly and indirectly involved in transportation now will have a more robust and aggressive program that helps them truly be the eyes and ears of efforts to improve highway safety, identify terrorists and recover missing and exploited children.

It’s hard to imagine a better image campaign. Consider that for every Ron Lantz, Goodyear Highway Hero or Truckload Carriers Association Highway Angel, there are several truck drivers who scare automobile drivers through their aggressive driving. Sure, truck drivers as a group apparently are far safer drivers than automobile drivers. It doesn’t matter.
That’s not the public perception.

But an initiative of the scale of the expanded Highway Watch program sets the stage over time for a fundamental change in the public’s thinking. It’s conceivable that one day the American people will think of truck drivers as protectors of public safety, true knights of the road. To encourage this thinking, transportation professionals trained under Highway Watch should receive some type of certification. Perhaps drivers trained should receive a decal or placard to affix to their trucks. The public needs to know what the industry is doing. After all, it’s a public service that ultimately has little to do with hauling goods from one place to another.

Although we all wish that the services of Highway Watch were never needed, regrettably they are – and will be far into the future. It’s a noble effort and one for which the trucking industry deserves credit and the support of fleets and drivers alike. And as Highway Watch yield successes, it’s your job to make sure everyone in your community is aware of those victories.