Dashboard Confidential
Love me, love my truck

By Dave Sweetman, columnist

For more years than I can count, I have heard the stigma of being a truck driver. In the early ’70s I was bounced out of a truck stop “drivers” section because I didn’t look like some rube’s idea of what a trucker looked like. Face it, Sonny Pruitt and B.J. McKay I am not.

I got tired of hearing all the usual jokes about the bad habits some outside our industry perceived us as having. I took it personally, choosing to change that perception. Driving habits put us on display 24/7 and I try to maintain a professional and safe operation. It’s not always easy, as anyone pedaling a big rig can attest.

I was fortunate to have been friends very early on with Trucker Buddy founder Gary King and was one of the first 20 drivers to join the program, later serving on the board of directors and as vice chairman of the board. Simply put, there is no better tool to better the image of the trucking industry.

I was also fortunate to have helped form the National Association of Show Trucks and served on the board, as well as vice president. Through a lot of hard work, we changed the face of truck shows, judging criteria, and respect given to competitors.

Having also been lucky to be part of many safety campaigns, I have tried to convey that we, as drivers, are doing our job safely and are more concerned with the car drivers’ safety than they are. Seeing how many motorists behave around trucks, we still have a long way to go.

And with that, I have had those conversations with many people not involved in trucking about how they see us. Are we the bad guys? Road hogs? In the way? That’s not the feedback I get, so maybe we are too hard on ourselves. Yeah … I know. Truck wrecks make headlines, but stats say trucks are not at fault more than 75 percent of the time. There’s room for improvement, but it’s something the public needs to know.

As I deal with individual customers, as well as corporate moves, I can often spot the curiosity of the client about trucks.

The guy who is looking the truck over states that he drove a truck while putting himself through college. He gets a tour, as well as a better impression of what we do, and we get a better understanding.

The mom with the wide-eyed little boy who is fascinated by the truck and trailer. They get a tour and a friendly visit, leaving with a better view about trucks, drivers and safety. I cannot count the times I have shown folks the blind spots of a big rig they should stay away from, for everyone’s safety.

Has it done any good? I would hope so. Recently I had it come back at me in a most amazing way.

Stopping at a fuel stop on I-10, I had a young driver come up to me and start talking about his truck, his job, and how he got into driving. With a smile, he told me that there was a guy in a Horseless Carriage truck who was his class’s Trucker Buddy about 15 years ago. He recalled the visits to the school, the post cards and more.

I was humbled to hear him talk about it as he told me his teacher’s name and shook my hand for being his Trucker Buddy. He told me of trips with Mom and Dad where he would point out things we talked about during the visits: safety, the importance of trucks, and even where potatoes came from. He even threw out a quote I used several times: “Not everyone will be a doctor or lawyer, and trucking is a respectable way to make a living.” Now he’s doing it on his own.

Some of you are thinking, this guy leads a sheltered life, rose-colored glasses, all that. Nah. I see the reality of our industry. Respect is earned, and I never lose sight of that.

How about you? LL