OOIDA President says treating truckers as "villains" is not the answer

| 4/4/2002

OOIDA President says treating truckers as "villains" through more stringent, targeted enforcement is not the answer to improved highway safety; warns of potential impact on safety caused by the exodus of thousands of experienced drivers

April 3, 2002, Grain Valley, MO ---- Jim Johnston, President of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) today said the continued blind emphasis on developing more stringent and more invasive methods of enforcement against truckers will not result in increased highway safety. OOIDA is the nation's largest trade organization of professional truckers, representing the interests of the country's 350,000 small business truckers.

Delivering a keynote address to the International Truck and Bus Safety Symposium at the University of Tennessee, Johnston said, "There is a price to pay for this philosophy of blindly pushing ahead with continuously increasing enforcement. Obviously the millions of dollars invested every year in this effort is a stiff price but even more significant is the rule of diminishing returns." Diminishing returns, according to Johnston, result from the negative impact the increasing levels of enforcement are having on professional drivers, influencing many of the best to exit the business.

Johnston said, "The exodus of thousands of good, hardworking professional drivers who are sick and tired of being treated as second class citizens or targeted for enforcement in every jurisdiction they pass through, is a substantial loss to the industry and to the effort to improve commercial vehicle safety."

He pointed out that there is no pool of well-trained replacements to fill the seats of those experienced professionals leaving the industry. New, inexperienced replacements would only have a negative impact on highway safety.

"Truckers have far more at stake than most in improved highway safety, and should be considered partners in the efforts instead of the unjustified targets of enforcement efforts."

In his remarks, Johnston singled out for particular criticism agencies, politicians and other state and federal forums that continually depict truckers as careless, reckless, irresponsible lawbreakers in need of targeted enforcement. He cited several recent examples of law enforcement officials and politicians whose derogatory comments towards truckers were seemingly done for public relations motives, to seek additional funding or simply to cover their "political behind".

Johnston quoted DOT statistics involving fatal collisions between trucks and passenger vehicles showing passenger vehicles were at fault in the vast majority of cases. "Truckers are the safest drivers on the road and they do an outstanding job in furthering the cause of highway safety".

Johnston recommended alternative considerations for budget allocation in addressing highway safety. Commenting on roadside inspections and enforcement for vehicle defects, including the millions of dollars budgeted by states for such new technology as infrared devices which can detect brake problems as trucks go by, Johnston said efforts should be made to direct funding to research for correcting major vehicle defect problems. "Would it not make more sense to invest some of these resources to develop efficient, dependable brake systems that are less prone to maintenance problems? Does anybody really believe that a large percentage of truckers are knowingly and intentionally running around out there with dangerously defective brakes?"

Additionally, said Johnston, the lack of mandatory standardized training has left the door open for many abuses and a continuing influx of new and unprepared drivers. "It is absolutely ludicrous that occupations such as barbers, hairdressers and insurance agents are required to go through mandatory training in order to be licensed, but that no training at all is required to obtain a license to operate an 80,000-pound truck over the highway."

Johnston went on to also mention loading and unloading abuses faced by truckers at docks and the lack of adequate parking and rest facilities as other factors impacting on the stress and daily performance of truckers. These are growing problems that must be addressed.

"The answer lies not in further victimizing and alienating this force of drivers but rather in finding ways to involve them in addressing the problem," Johnston said. "Truckers are intelligent, patriotic citizens who are willing to work hard and commit their efforts and loyalty when the cause is worthwhile."

Full text of Jim Johnston's speech at National Safety Council symposium