Raise Your Voice
Truckers can make an impact on industry issues if they become their own advocates
By Timothy D. Brady
After grumbling about new hours of service rules, wondering how to get more women accepted into the trucking fold or growing alarmed at the health issues so many fellow drivers face, a lot of truckers throw up their hands and shrug. They often assume they can’t do anything to change the problems they see, thinking: “What’s the point? I’m the little person in all this. Who’s going to listen to me when there are larger groups and organizations with the money to be heard?”
Those grumblers need to think again. Truckers have more opportunity to become involved in important issues than ever before.
Most truckers are familiar with the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA), American Trucking Associations (ATA) and United Safety Alliance, Inc. (Ol’ Blue, USA). A newer group, Women in Trucking, encourages the employment of women in the industry and helps those who are already working in trucking to avoid some of the obstacles faced by women in the industry. These groups can help guide drivers on how to have an impact on issues that are important to them.
For example, drivers can comment to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Association (FMCSA) on proposed rules, and contact elected representatives on pending legislation. If members of the trucking community don’t make an effort to be heard, there’s a stronger chance that an unwanted rule or law will go into effect.
Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube have created new platforms for the individual trucker to bring forward issues previously placed on the back burner or ignored. Social media provides an opportunity for people who are passionate about an issue to educate others. Then perhaps their cause will get traction with other truckers and build into a movement for change.
With the Internet and social networks, it’s also tremendously easier to contact elected officials, from sending an email about a specific issue to participating in a listening session concerning a rule proposed by the FMCSA. With a few clicks of a mouse, you can be in direct communication with the decision-makers and lawmakers all from the cab of your truck. Never before in the history of trucking have truckers had this ability to conduct an ongoing discussion with the industry’s rulemakers.
Bringing drivers together
Desiree Wood created Real Woman In Trucking in 2009 as a resource for women drivers facing discrimination in the industry.
“I decided to tap into an area no one wanted to touch and that is harassment and retaliation of new women entering the trucking industry as students,” she says. “I am fortunate that I was embraced by the social media community early, so while I was telling my own student trucker story I was able to build a social media influence to share the advocacy work of others I respect. This gives me a chance to participate and scoot the message into a wider audience, sometimes taking that message all the way to Washington, D.C., using an effective sentence and a link on Twitter.”
Wood has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, featured in a Dan Rather Investigative Report series, and was a source for a documentary about workplace bullying. But the bulk of her advocacy is done outside the spotlight. She communicates with trucking companies about improving the atmosphere for women driver trainees and works with various women’s groups to raise awareness. Most importantly, she listens to and supports female drivers who have encountered harassment and gives them information about how to remedy the situation.
Heather Pontruff started Trucker’s Voice on Facebook as a gathering spot for drivers. She started out with 10 people trading thoughts on the page, but it didn’t take long before thousands were visiting.
“My goal is still to have drivers meet other drivers,” she says. “But it’s also to empower others. I am a co-pilot. I am happy to be out here helping others fight for their rights, while also helping truckers’ wives. I have an awesome network that helps me understand the concerns of truckers.”
Pontruff encourages drivers to make their voices heard on the issues most important to them, including changes in hours of service, electronic on-board recorders and more. The issues vary, but the message she sends to her network is the same.”
“A lot of drivers want to gripe and complain instead of taking the correct action toward a problem — writing letters, making phone calls and sending emails — and uniting behind a cause. Without unity, this industry is sure to fail,” she says.
Driver advocate Jeff Barker also puts the responsibility for change on truckers themselves, but he focuses on personal responsibility and health issues.
“We drivers have a lot of work to do if we ever intend to command respect in an effort to attempt to create positive changes for us,” he says. “When it comes to recognizing problems that we face, it’s important to understand how they came about.”
Barker helped put together www.rideandroll.me, a website that encourages truckers to bring a bike out on the road with them and guides them to bike trails around the country.
Making the road a safer place for all
“In my opinion, there is a lot of anger and negativity within the world, not just within trucking,” says Lee Stambaugh, a member of Drivers Alike. “Since I am a trucker, I am trying to get the message across to everyone: ‘Turn your anger into advocacy and speak up about what is bothering you, ask questions and educate yourself.’”
Drivers Alike started in December 2009 as a site for truckers to socialize online, and it didn’t take long for driver conversations to turn into driver causes. The site became an information source for truckers and their families who wanted to get involved in making trucking better but didn’t know how.
Two of the biggest issues the site advocates for are Jason’s Law, to improve safety for drivers, and Truckers Against Trafficking, which raises awareness about human trafficking.
In addition to guiding individual drivers on effectively getting heard by decision-makers, Stambaugh and his Drivers Alike colleagues communicate with key lawmakers.
“We have been in contact with New York Congressman Paul Tonko’s office, and were recently asked to compile information for his office about violence toward truckers that occurs on the road,” says Stambaugh.
Those efforts had results. Rep. Tonko and Minnesota Congressman Erik Paulsen recently co-sponsored a bill supporting Jason’s Law. If enacted, the bill would provide $20 million a year toward increased truck parking and technology that can alert drivers to available, safe parking spaces.
Watching out for each other
In summing up the idea of being involved, addressing the issues that face truckers and, more importantly, coming up with solutions, Wood put it best, “I don’t really think of myself as an advocate. I am just a person who feels a responsibility to others to say, ‘Hey, there’s a big hole in the road ahead of you. Watch out for it so you don’t fall in.’”
Sometimes that’s all it takes, a bit of a heads-up as to what’s ahead of us. That’s something truckers have always done for other truckers, whether it’s letting them know of an accident, a slow-down, a scale that’s open or “Hey, they want to change the rules again.” Watching out for your fellow driver is part of being on the road.