Sticking up for trucking

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Andy Ahern (seen below at right), founder and CEO of consulting firm Ahern & Associates, is well-known in trucking circles for being a blunt and outspoken advocate for the industry – and one quite accepting of those who don’t agree with his views of the trucking business.

“I believe everyone is entitled to their opinion in this country, whether we agree with their opinion or not,” he noted recently in one of his video podcasts. “But trucking is as middle-America as you’re going to get and I am very proud to be in this industry.”

One issue that’s recently gotten under Ahern’s skin is what he calls the “misperception” held by the general public regarding the safety of trucking operations – believing it’s well past time for the industry to start sticking up for itself in this often one-sided and what he dubs is often a “misunderstood” debate.

“One of the most ubiquitous and unfortunate misconceptions the public holds about the trucking industry is that truck drivers are responsible for the vast majority of car/truck fatalities on the road,” Ahern noted in a recent missive.

“Many in the public hold a false belief that truck drivers enter the road under the influence of alcohol, illegal substances, or are performing risky maneuvers while on the road. This is simply not the case,” he stressed. “Furthermore, truck drivers and the industry as a whole are held to incredibly stringent standards that most private vehicle drivers would fail to meet.”

He pointed to recent surveys that show in 70% to 75% of all fatal car and truck related crashes, the drivers of the private passenger cars were found to be at fault for the accident.

Out of those fatal crashes, 31% of those private vehicle drivers were found to be driving under the influence of alcohol, he said, while conversely, a mere 2% of collisions involved a truck driver operating a vehicle while under the influence, and trucks have an overall crash rate which is less than half of the national average.

Indeed, AAA released a study nearly 12 years ago that determined much the same thing regarding car and truck crashes, but that’s barely changed the public’s perception of the industry’s safety profile.

“Over the past year, the trucking industry has been the subject of increasing scrutiny from the government, the media, and the general public which have focused on the industry’s safety record and operating practices,” Ahern said. “In mainstream media the majority of industry stories have focused on fines levied and lawsuits issued with new regulations implemented in the name of public safety. The transportation industry has been in danger of being painted as a villainous entity that is a menacing danger on wheels when the reality is that the trucking industry is one of the most widely misunderstood industries in the country, with very few proponents in its corner.”

Contrary to the public’s impression of truck drivers, Ahern said that the responsibilities of a truck driver actually require a fairly nuanced set of skills, with truck drivers constantly completing mileage calculations, balancing fuel and freight weight, manage schedules and routes – all while working with potentially unyielding shippers and receivers.

“I could never be a truck driver because I just couldn’t take all the abuse,” Ahern noted in one of his recent podcasts. “Being self-motivated, mature, and excellent at time management are all prerequisites for success in a position that receives very little applause or accolade.”

The trouble, as Ahern sees it, is that trucking is on the one hand a “dominant force” driving the economic success of America, while on the other it is being continually “vilified” as a “menace” to the general public.

“The projected growth of the trucking industry is just one of many signals that indicate the importance of the industry to the well-being of the entire country,” Ahern stressed. “Currently, trucks move 9.4 billion tons of freight, generate $642.1 billion in gross revenue, and move 70% to 80% of all products in the U.S. Overall freight revenue is predicted to grow by 63.6%, and tonnage to rise 70.8% by 2014. And these transported products include virtually all products essential for daily life: food, clothes, medical devices, and life-saving drugs are all moved every day by the very truck drivers vilified by the public and the government.”

The primary challenges he sees ahead over next several years are the increasing legislative burdens on the trucking industry and a looming skill shortage affecting not only freight haulers but the aerospace, construction, agriculture and healthcare industries.

“Over the next two years there are a total of 27 new regulations that will be coming into effect which trucking companies will need to be able to accommodate and adjust to,” he explained. “Trucking companies need to educate themselves about these upcoming changes now and begin planning for the needed changes to their business models and practices so that they are already a step-ahead when the time for implementation comes.”

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