Truckers have long battled with image problems, reckons PowerTorque’s US Correspondent, Steve Sturgess, having gone from being the Knights of the Road serving and saving stranded motorists to being drivers of juggernauts that drive over stranded motorists, back to being Knights of the Road again. (And just for grins, look up the definition of juggernaut).
The current pandemic has done something to improve the image of truck drivers, but despite former President Trump’s frequent call-outs last year to recognise the sterling job the nation’s truckers, and by extension, the companies they work for, there still is a big disconnect between the job they do to keep the store shelves filled, the food chain running, pharmacies stocked and industry in general running, and the recognition they deserve.
Many consumers do not even know that hours of service (HOS) regulations for many in the essential categories of distribution have been suspended, so the hours worked are even more arduous than the 11 hours of driving under the regular HOS regulation, and against this, in the early days of the pandemic, drivers could get no respite with breaks at truck stops that had closed their doors under governors’ edicts.
In fact, during the early days, there were stretches of freeways across the country where trucks were the only vehicles to be found. Under lockdowns, car driving mileage plummeted, much to the chagrin of fuel haulers who suddenly had to scale back deliveries of fuel to service stations around the country.
In general, the trucking industry has been surprisingly robust even as unemployment skyrocketed. And now, with employment returning, though how long that continues under a new administration remains to be seen, truck and trailer sales have held up remarkably well.
As an industry watcher, I look at trailer rental and sales. It’s always a good sign after a recession or a dislocation like this pandemic when trailer rentals rise, and a great sign when trailer sales pick up. Trucking is, after all, one of the best indicators of economic performance because the nation’s freight moves on trucks. Never was there a truer slogan than ‘if you’ve got it, a truck brought it’.
And there are some encouraging signs that truck transportation is holding up and truckers are getting the nod for a job well done. Go to #thankatrucker to see how the efforts of the public in creating free meals and of the industry’s support for drivers as they complete their daily round. One especially heartwarming effort from family-owned Sutton Transport from Wisconsin was a $500 bonus check for drivers who persevered through the pandemic.
But a lot of this enthusiasm has tailed off as the country is disheartened to learn of new lockdowns. However, the holidays drove people to #thankatrucker to support our nation’s drivers with many comments from trucking firms in support of their drivers. One particularly nice comment that the truck was carrying all the gifts that wouldn’t fit in the sleigh.
Now that they are Knights of the Road again there are many pictures of truck drivers clutching gift cards from Dennys, Subway and other restaurant chains that generous members of the public have given them as a thank-you. If you’re still getting a paycheck, this is a great way to express your thanks.
At a time when non-essential and service industry ex-employees are shut down, the trucking industry is desperate for drivers. It’s a shame that people cast out of work through no fault of their own cannot avail themselves of these valuable driving jobs, because it takes a commercial drivers license to get on board with an over-the-road driving job. But the same doesn’t apply to the support staff out on the loading dock.