?The Image of Truckers
If we are to believe the stereotypical image painted by Hollywood, the typical trucker is an uneducated, unkempt redneck that has never quite mastered the art of taking a shower. Movies such as the Stephen Spielberg classic Duel, Maximum Overdrive, and Jeepers Creepers go so far as to make truckers look like psychopathic murderers. The typical Hollywood trucker has to wear a cowboy hat or an old stained ball cap, adorn himself with plenty of flannel, hit on every woman he sees while hiding his wedding ring, and answer to a name such as Cletus, Earl, Scooter, or Billy Bob.
Sadly, the formulation of any stereotype usually stems from a small kernel of truth. I see plenty of drivers who are unshaven with, perhaps, a streak of fifth-wheel grease on their tee shirt, and some splotches of mud here and there. I am occasionally one of those individuals myself. The nature of the work is not glamorous, and it is often impossible to avoid falling victim to unkemptness.
Even so, a handful of drivers take it a step further and serve as embarrassing ambassadors to the industry. Once, at a truck stop in Tallapoosa, Georgia, I watched a dirty and ragged-looking man approach my truck. I considered crawling into the sleeper berth to avoid a vagrant’s appeal for money. As he came closer, however, I discerned a company logo on his tattered cap-he was a driver!
Truckers are not known as fashion plates nor, should they be. I, for one, dress for comfort on the road and do not attempt to impress Mr. Blackwell. Nonetheless, when a driver gets to the point where he is indistinguishable from a beggar, perhaps it is time for him to reevaluate his personal grooming habits.
In reality, the majority of truckers do not fit the stereotypical image. Most truckers are easy-going, nice, good-hearted people, and they are more educated than many might think. According to a profile in Newport Communications, about half of truckers have some college education, and approximately 90% have a high school diploma or equivalent.
Truck drivers come from all walks of life, and plenty of college graduates drive trucks. Doctors, lawyers, nurses, police officers, CPA’s, and even members of MENSA are current or former truck drivers. Former Colorado U.S. Senate Representative, Ben Nighthorse Campbell was also a truck driver. Through trucking, Mr. Campbell financed his college education and earned his degree form San Jose State University. This former trucker also competed in the 1964 Olympics as a member of the U.S. Judo team. Other famous names of former truck drivers include: Chevy Chase, Charles Bronson, Richard Pryor, Liam Neeson, Sean Connery, and Elvis Presley. The future “”King”” drove for the aptly named Crown Electric Company. A musician for whom a young Presley auditioned advised him:
“”Stick to driving a truck, because you’ll never make it as a singer.””
Misunderstanding and lack of education on the part of the motoring public also contributes to the negative image of truckers. A common complaint pertains to truckers “”riding beside each other”” and preventing four-wheelers from passing. The public may not be aware that most major trucking companies govern their trucks to have top speeds of 65mph or less. Because of this, trucks are often “”stuck”” beside one another longer than they would like to be. This is just as frustrating to the trucker as to the cars that can’t pass.
Another complaint is: “”Why do you truckers put your turn signal on right when I get beside you?””Professional truck drivers look ahead for long distances to see potential hazards or slow-moving traffic. Many times, they are asking you to either hurry up and pass, or to back off, especially if you have been riding alongside for awhile. We do not think we own the road, we are just asking you to work with us.
A complaint fired directly at me by an angry four-wheeler was, “”Why did you wait until I got in the right lane to pass you, and then decide to move over?”” First, the right lane is not a passing lane. Passing a big truck in the right lane is never a good idea. Second, trucks have to give ample passing room to the vehicle they are passing before moving back into the right lane. Imagine if all truckers drove like cars-swerving between lanes like a demon. With patience, everybody wins!
In the glory days of trucking, truckers were the Knights of the Road, always willing to help a motorist in distress. When the lyrical stories of C.W. McCall permeated the radio airwaves in the 1970’s, and movies such as Smokey and the Bandit cast truckers in a heroic light, young boys euphorically pumped their arms when a mighty diesel passed.
Nowadays, that image is tarnished at best, and there is no single answer to explain it. One explanation lies in the explosion of traffic volume in the last few years. It is impossible to know if someone really needs help when so many cars and trucks pull to the shoulder. In addition, insurance regulations that did not exist in the “”glory days”” now prevent truckers from picking up a motorist no matter what the circumstances. Truckers are dollar signs to lawyers, and if we pick someone up and then have an accident, our career and our freedom is over. It is a sad fact that being a Good Samaritan is often too great a risk to our own well being, and to the loads we are hauling that are often valued in excess of a million dollars.
There are also many ways that truckers exacerbate their own negative image. A lack of basic personal grooming is one of the worst culprits. No one expects a trucker to look like a CEO reporting for a business meeting, but it isn’t asking much to expect him to shower regularly, brush his teeth, and throw on a fresh pair of jeans and tee shirt every couple of days.
Turning on the CB radio is almost certain to formulate a negative image of truckers. The excessive use of profanity, threats, bigotry, gay bashing, womanizing, and general ignorance makes truckers appear as ill-bred knuckle-draggers. I make little mention of the CB radio, and the reason is simple: my CB remains off at least 95% of the time, and I know many drivers who share in that practice. I’m not sure that truckers will ever decide to clean up the airwaves but, until that time, the On/Off switch provides a viable alternative.
The condition of many truck stops also illuminates truckers in a negative light. Some truck stops literally smell like a urinal. While a large part of truck stop cleanliness responsibility falls upon the facility management, drivers need to bear their share as well. There is no excuse for a driver haphazardly discarding trash and pee bottles at a truck stop. This is absolutely disgusting, and I make no excuse for the drivers who are too lazy to walk to a trashcan. I would like to see truck stops impose a stiff penalty to any driver caught throwing a pee bottle anywhere besides a waste receptacle. On the same note, truck stops need to be better about removing waste on a regular schedule. Nothing is more sickening than to walk across a parking lot when the wind wafts an odor of rotting food and urine directly into your face.
There are things that both truckers and the motoring public can do for an image makeover. Truckers should pay heed to personal hygiene and appearance. We don’t need to dress for an opera opening, but our appearance (and fragrance) should not be offensive.
We are the professional drivers, and we should act accordingly. Stop tailgating, stop speeding through construction zones, and do not “”bully”” four-wheelers. Those who are unable to share the road with professionalism and respect should not be behind the wheel of a 40-ton vehicle. Pee jugs go in the waste receptacle. Enough said!
Finally, treating waitresses and cashiers with respect, presenting ourselves to customers and shippers in a professional manner, and cleaning up our filthy mouths on the CB would go a long way toward improving our image.
The motoring public could also use an education on sharing the road with trucks. A simple understanding of what trucks can and cannot do would alleviate plenty of road rage and middle fingers. Please remind yourself that the trucks annoying you are the main reason you enjoy the comfort and standard of living that you have. Point to anything you own, and know that a truck probably delivered it to the place you got it.
Trucks and truckers are here to stay. Our public perception lies largely in our own hands.