An honorable trade

Updated Jun 25, 2014
Captain Eddie Rickenbacker in FranceCaptain 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.